Herpes information and Home Testing
What is Herpes?
Herpes is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types
of herpes: HSV1 and HSV2. Herpes can affect any mucous membrane but the most common
infection sites are the genital area, buttocks, thighs and around the mouth. Herpes can
be passed through sexual contact so it is categorised as an STI. Unlike other STIs such
as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, herpes does not have a cure. Symptoms can be managed through
medication (if required) and there are precautions that that can be taken to prevent
transmission to sexual partners.
A significant majority of the population has antibodies for the HSV1 (70%) and a
significant minority has antibodies for HSV2. Some estimates place the HSV2 antibody
prevalence at 40%. Given the prevalence, we question the utility of blood screening for
herpes and only advocate testing in symptomatic cases.
There is no absolute pattern as far as symptoms are concerned. Most people will have a
primary herpes episode within 7 – 14 days of becoming infected. The primary episode is
usually the most severe and will normally include painful blisters, a general feeling
of being unwell, fever, pain or irritation when passing urine (especially in women).
Women may also have an unusual vaginal discharge.
Some people infected with herpes will never have symptoms and sometimes the primary
episode is months or years after infection. A primary episode does not always imply
a recent infection.
Recurrent episodes are usually less severe and comprise a tingling sensation and
sometimes painful, watery blisters.
Cold sores around the mouth are caused by the herpes virus.
HSV1 and HSV2 can affect the genital area as well as around the mouth. Contrary to what
many people think, HSV1 is often detected in people with genital symptoms.
The STI Clinic has a range of tests for herpes. We only advocate testing if you are
symptomatic. We have a symptomatic lesion test where you can swab the affected area and
we can test for the presence of the herpes virus. We can test for herpes from a urine
sample. If you have herpes in the genital area then the virus will normally shed in
your urine and we can detect that using PCR technology but this would not be our primary
recommendation. Where symptoms are present in the form of blisters or sores, we
strongly recommend a symptomatic lesion swab.
We do not advocate blood testing as a positive result for antibodies has no real medical
If the viral load is high, some people can be prescribed suppression therapy. Aciclovir
is the normal medication that is prescribed but there are alternatives. If suppression
therapy is not required then a short course of Aciclovir can be taken when symptoms develop.