Herpes test

Types of tests

There are two types of tests to determine if you have either type 1 or type 2 or the Herpes simplex viruses (HSV). These tests are:

Swab tests

Taking a swab test from a genital sore is the only way to accurately diagnose genital herpes.

If people go to their doctor when a genital sore is not present, a swab test cannot be used for diagnosis.

Blood tests

Blood tests may help to make the diagnosis, but the results can be difficult to interpret.

A blood test does not detect the virus itself.

The herpes blood test cannot tell:

  • which part of your body is infected (lips or genitals)
  • whether you will develop symptoms of herpes
  • if your symptoms are due to herpes.

What we are testing for

A blood test for herpes is a test for antibodies, which are produced by the immune system when we are infected with HSV. A blood test tells whether you have ever been infected with the herpes virus. It cannot tell when you became infected.

When to get tested

Swab tests are only accurate when whilst you have a sore.

For blood tests, it may take between six and eight weeks to detect antibodies in your blood after first becoming infected with HSV. Also, antibodies may disappear with time, especially if the person has infrequent recurrences of herpes.

The results

Negative results for either type 1 or type 2 HSV mean the person has not been infected with either virus in the past.

A positive blood test simply indicates that the person has been infected with type 1 or type 2 HSV (or both) some time in the past.

Things to consider

  • All tests may sometimes give an incorrect result.
  • The herpes blood test varies in its reliability, so the meaning of a test result must be considered along with your medical history.
  • A positive blood test does not indicate the site of the infection.
  • Serology tests do not provide any information about whether symptoms (genital or oral) are due to herpes.
  • A positive blood test does not tell if the person is infectious at the time of the test.

For more information

For more information on HIV testing, contact Adelaide Sexual Health Centre.