Healthy Living

How is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

How is Genital Herpes Diagnosed?

Key Takeaways

  • Common symptoms of genital herpes are pain, itching and sores present in the genital areas or skin
  • Several tests, such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), cell culture and a blood test are used to determine if you have genital herpes.    
  • Regular intake of medications and lifestyle management can help in managing the infection and your doctor will also advice you how to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of recurrent infections. 

Genital Herpes is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It is caused by two types of viruses - herpes simplex Type 1 and herpes simplex Type 2. However, people suffering from the condition are not aware of it because it hardly presents with any symptoms. So, in most of the cases people are infected, contagious and unaware.

In United States, one out of every six people are reported to suffer from genital herpes. It generally affects sexually active people between the age of 14 to 49 years. The signs and symptoms of the condition are generally mistaken for other diseases.

Herpes

Genital Herpes is confirmed only after symptoms appear, definite tests are conducted when the infection is active and the results which would follow. As signs and symptoms of genital herpes can be similar to those of other diseases, it is important for you to report any signs and symptoms, such as blisters or sores on the genitals to healthcare personnel as soon as they appear for a clear diagnosis to be made. Early diagnosis not only provides you with the necessary treatment, but also limits the risk of you spreading genital herpes to your sexual partner(s).

Genital Herpes is usually self-diagnosable and the common symptoms are pain, itching and sore present in the genital areas or skin, for both male and female. The symptoms vary according to the primary or recurrent nature of the infection. Itching, small sores and pain are the primary symptoms to appear first. They gradually develop into scabs and ulcers. Following these signs, the genital herpes goes dormant in the body and the individual becomes the carrier. There are high chances of symptomatic recurrence in many patients.

Following are the distinguished signs and symptoms:

  • Painful areas: Reproductive organs, namely penis or vagina
  • Painful circumstances: Generally, during urination
  • Infections on the skin: Rashes, ulcers, blisters, scabs or redness
  • Infections in the groin: Ulcers or sores
  • Other indicative signs: Recurrence, itching or pins and needles sensation

Can Herpes Simplex be treated medically?

Medications and lifestyle management can help in managing the infection.

Regular intake of certain medicines is usually very effective in healing the sores or ulcers and preventing their frequent recurrence. Many physicians also advise pain relieving remedies like warm baths, ice packs or cool compresses; pain relieving drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin.

It is highly recommended to wear cotton clothes to prevent chafing and to keep the sores dry, as moist environment slows the healing process. Unfortunately, there is no cure for herpes simplex. The treatment protocol only consists of pain relieving and recurrence preventive measures to lower the rate of outbreak.

Test and Diagnosis of Herpes Simplex

The confirmed diagnosis of the condition is based on physical examinations and results following the laboratory investigations. Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will advise you on the necessary steps to take to manage symptoms and reduce the frequency of recurrent infections.

Early diagnosis also helps patients to take steps to limit the spread of genital herpes. Antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir minimize the recurrence and severity of repeated as well as lessens the risk of spreading genital herpes to your sexual partner(s).

A physical examination often includes a detailed inspection of your skin to check for blisters or sores. These mostly occur on the genitals, thighs, buttocks and rectal area. During a physical exam, your doctor may ask if you are experiencing other symptoms, such as pain during urination, which could also point to genital herpes. A physical examination is usually not enough to prove that you have  genital herpes.

Several tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), cell culture and a blood test are used to determine if you have genital herpes. These tests are usually accurate as they help to confirm if you have an infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. 

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test: This is the most accurate blood test method of diagnosis used for patients who do not have any symptoms of herpes. A sample can be taken from blood, sores or spinal fluid to copy the DNA of the virus. It detects small fragment of the virus in the blood.
  • Cell culture test: This test is used to determine whether herpes is as a result of infection with HSV1 or HSV2. Most cases of genital herpes are caused by HSV2. A sample is taken from the sores and tested in the lab for these viruses.
  • Blood test: A blood test can also be conducted to identify the presence of HSV antibodies. This can be beneficial in cases where you have no blisters or sores on your genitals. The test analyses a blood sample to detect the presence of HSV antibodies and infection to the sexually transmitted disease in the past.There are chances of false-negative results for cell culture test and PCR test if the sores are in the healing stage or you have been exposed to the virus recently. The general practitioners or the lab technicians need to test the patient again under such circumstances because HSV antibodies usually take few weeks to get detected in the blood. Outbreak of the symptoms may occur immediately or after you have been exposed to the virus for long. There are high chances of being a carrier with dormant herpes simplex, making the patient highly contagious unintentionally. Moreover, cell culture test and PCR test basically show if the patient has been infected with the virus in the past.
  • Antibody Tests: Antibodies are proteins produced in response to an infection. These are produced by the immune system. During this direct fluorescent antibody test, a HSV antibodies solution and fluorescent dye are added to a sample of cells. The presence of virus is detected if antibodies stick to the virus in the sample and glow.  This is a microscopic investigation and can only be performed in a sophisticated laboratory.

Other tests include detecting the HSV in saliva, urine and tears samples from the infected subject. These tests can be conducted at any local health centre, clinic, by private healthcare practitioners and healthcare centres. The information of the patient is kept confidential and an efficient treatment protocol is provided after reliable diagnosis.