Though it may be quite evident from the history and the symptoms that you have herpes, there are certain indications for conducting tests to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, you should start treatment immediately to contain the herpes virus and its symptoms. You also need to adopt certain measures to prevent any further outbreaks, be it genital, oral, or eye herpes.
Your doctor will advise diagnostic tests in the following conditions:
- When a sore or blister appears on the genitals and around the mouth.
- When certain complications of herpes such as encephalitis develop and their cause is to be confirmed or determined.
- When there is fear of the pregnant mother with herpes having passed on the infection to the newborn baby.
Tests for herpes virus
There are several laboratory tests for herpes. Some to detect the antigen and some to detect the antibodies formed by the body to fight the virus.
1) Herpes culture test
The herpes culture test is ideally done within the first 48 hours of an appearance of herpes sore because that is when the herpes simplex virus is active.
Method. The technician scrapes the sore with the help of a cotton swab and sends the scrapings consisting of fluid and cells on the cotton swab to the laboratory for culture. A culture test is nothing but allowing the collected fluid from the sore onto a favorable medium, solid or liquid, where the herpes virus will show growing activity. A “cup” or a Petri dish is used for this purpose.
Advantages. A positive result is an absolute indication that you have herpes. There is no false positive in this test.
- It takes about seven days for herpes test results.
- It is useful only during the first 48 hours of the initial outbreak of herpes.
- In subsequent recurrent outbreaks, this test shows positive results in only 30% of the cases.
- When the ulcer is healing this est does not give accurate results. Therefore, even if you have herpes, this test will give a negative result. This is called a false-negative test.
2) Herpes blood test or herpes serology
The blood test for herpes is based on the fact that our body fights infection by producing antibodies with the help of our immune system. Blood taken from the herpes patient is tested in the laboratory for the presence of antibodies to the herpes simplex virus type 1 and HSV type 2. This test does not detect the virus itself.
Disadvantages. It takes a few weeks to 3 months for the antibodies in the blood to develop. Therefore, if you undergo these blood tests before these antibodies (in fresh primary cases) develop, it will give a false negative reaction. That is, the test will show a negative result in spite of the person having herpes.
A positive result, however, will confirm the herpes infection.
3) Polymerase Chain Reaction Test for herpes (PCR Test)
This test is performed with the fluid in the herpes blister or sore, or with blood or with spinal fluid. The doctor will want to test the spinal fluid when he wants to determine the cause of encephalitis or meningitis. This test finds the DNA or the genetic structure of the virus and can even tell whether the herpes infection is due to HSV type 1 or HSV type 2.
4) Detection test for herpes virus antigen
In this test, the fresh sore or blister is scraped with the help of a sterile cotton swab and a smear is prepared on a microscopic slide. This smear is examined for the presence of antigens on the cells infected with herpes.
It is quite possible that you never had any symptoms of herpes, but getting tested for herpes will be a good idea if you
- Have had a history of any other STD in the past
- Have had sex with multiple partners
- Have had sex with a partner who has a history of herpes
As mentioned earlier, there is no cure for herpes. The herpes treatments mentioned here are aimed basically to tone down the severity of the herpes infection, reduce its recurrences, and prevent its spread to the other parts of your body like your face, mouth (which can cause oral herpes), and your eyes (ocular herpes). Do follow these tips on herpes remedies as explained below.
- Nutritious Diet. Have a well-balanced nutritious diet to increase body resistance and increase fluid intake to get rid of toxins and deacidify the body to keep the body environment unfavorable for infection.
- Maintain local hygiene. Wash the affected part twice a day with water. Do not apply soap. Dry the area well by dabbing it with a very soft absorbent towel or cotton. Do not rub. Do not touch the sores. Drying the affected part with a hair drier will be better. Keep the pubic hair trimmed.
- Topical herpes treatment. During an acute attack, after drying the part as stated above, apply topical antibiotic creams lightly on the affected part, and sprinkle an antibiotic and anti-fungal powder over it. This will contain the infection. The powder will help keep the affected part dry.
- Medicines for herpes. There is no cure for herpes. However, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs like Famvir, Zovirax, and Valacyclovir and you should start them immediately, within six hours of the onset of the infection. Starting Famvir late reduces its effectiveness. Oral therapy or injections are useful in controlling the severity of the herpes infection.
- For recurring outbreaks. About 70% of people with herpes have about six recurring bouts every year. Your doctor may prescribe a long-term daily dose of Famvir for preventing these recurring infections. You may experience side effects of Famvir such as headache, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin allergy, reduced WBC and platelet count. Consult your doctor if you have any of these side effects.
- Antibiotics. Being a viral infection, herpes is self-limiting and subsides on its own unless superadded bacterial infection sets in, in which case your doctor will prescribe antibiotics
- Clothing. Wear loose and ventilating underwear and clothing.
- Avoid contact. Do not touch the sores with your fingers. If there has been hand contact with the sores, make sure you wash your hands well with soap and water. Such an unwashed hand can transmit the herpes infection to your mouth or eyes on touch. Keep your towels and linen to yourself to avoid spreading herpes infection to others.
- Pubic hair. Trim your pubic hair regularly.
- Avoid contact with your partner during a herpes outbreak to avoid spreading the infection. Remember, condoms cannot stop the spread of herpes. The herpes virus can reside outside the area that a condom covers, so a condom may not always prevent herpes transmission.