What is a Genital Herpes Test?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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A genital herpes test is a technique used to determine whether or not a person is infected with this virus. Sometimes physicians will make a diagnosis based on a visual inspection of a problem area. People are generally advised not to fully rely on this method. A real genital herpes test must be conducted for absolute confirmation of infection.

Genital herpes is a virus caused by herpes simplex type I or type II. Most vaginal infections are caused by type II. When a person is tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), testing for herpes is generally not conducted without request because it cannot be done in the same manner. A genital herpes test must be conducted separately, but there is more than one method.

A cell culture is a genital herpes test that requires a person to have active sores or blisters suspected to be caused by the virus. When this is the case, a sample must be taken from at least one of the lesions. This is usually done by contaminating a cotton-tipped swab in the problem area.

Once the sample is collected, it must be analyzed under a microscope. This is generally done in a laboratory. The sample taken with the cotton-tipped swab will be observed for culture growth or it may be analyzed specifically for the virus. If the virus is found in the sample, it is often concluded that the individual has genital herpes.


Each type of genital herpes test tends to have at least one weakness. A drawback with the cell culture is that it is sometimes unreliable because the lesion used for a sample can be infected with more than one organism, leading to a premature and false determination that it is not caused by herpes simplex. Accurate results may also be difficult to obtain when the lesions are present but have begun to heal.

Serology is another method that can be used to try to detect the infection. This genital herpes test, which requires a blood sample, is also generally conducted in a laboratory. This method involves analyzing the blood for antibodies, which will be produced by the body if it has encountered the virus.

There are several types of serology tests, including the Western Blot and the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). One of the concerns that health care professionals have about blood testing methods is that they do not determine which type of herpes simplex a person has. Another drawback is that these tests have varying accuracy rates, which all tend to be less than 100 percent.



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