Testing for Herpes

Herpes is not the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK, but it is still a major concerns as Herpes infections can have serious consequences for a patient’s health. In this article a brief overview of Herpes is given before a description of symptoms and how you can be tested for this STI.

What is Herpes?

Herpes is unlike other sexually transmitted diseases like Gonorrhea and Chlamydia in that it is caused by viruses as opposed to bacteria. The Herpes virus exists in two forms called Herpes Simplex I and Herpes Simplex II.

These viruses can be passed on through skin to skin contact, and sexual contact is one of the most common means of transmission. Herpes is a particularly serious STI (sexually transmitted infection) because of its association with HIV (the human Immunovirus that causes AIDS). Herpes can make HIV carriers more likely to pass the illness on, and can also make people more susceptible to catching the virus.

Genital Herpes infections are characterized by painful sores, and the condition is worsened if the sufferer has an immune system that is compromised or suppressed in any way. These sores look like red blisters that itch and/or burn. Sores will usually heal within 3 weeks of infection.

There is a slight difference between the two strains of Herpes in that Simplex II does not necessarily present with any symptoms that can be clearly discerned as caused by a Herpes infection. In the few cases of Simplex II infection that do occur with symptoms, these signs of infection are particularly exaggerated. 

Another difference between the two is that Simplex II will cause sores around the genital and anal region, while Simplex I is more likely to appear as a cold sore around the mouth.

Herpes infections are episodic, meaning that symptoms crop up and then subside before the cycle repeats itself. Alongside sores flu symptoms are commonplace, and episodes recur 4-5 times a year.

Genital Herpes is particularly dangerous in pregnant women who can pass the virus on to their newborn children. Herpes infections in babies can be fatal, and if the condition has been contracted during a pregnancy the chances of it being passed on to a child are much higher. Women suffering from herpes are usually given a surgical delivery through a Caesarean Section (C-Section) to prevent the transmission of this deadly disease to the newborn.

How is Herpes tested for?

A physical exam is often an effective way to diagnose Herpes because of the characteristic appearance of sores, which are usually accompanied by flu like symptoms. However for a concrete conclusion about whether or not you have a Herpes infection, a blood test is needed. Unlike bacterial blood tests, the Herpes blood test looks for antibodies that your body produces in the presence of the Herpes Simplex virus.

Antibodies are molecules produced by your body’s defense system to remove the invading Simplex virus. Antibodies are specific to the infecting agent, and so the antibodies specific to Herpes Simplex are what your doctor will be looking for during a blood test for Herpes.

Treating Herpes

Unfortunately Herpes Simplex does not have a cure, although antiviral treatments help manage the episodic outbreak of symptoms. Other medications have been developed which are designed to manage sores and the associated pain, as well as reduce the chances of transmission during sexual intercourse.

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