Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that there were 572,000 new cases of genital herpes in the United States in a single year?
That's right. It's an incredibly common disease. But did you also know that most Americans who are infected aren't even aware of it? The CDC estimated that 87.4% of people in the 14–49 age range with the disease haven't been diagnosed!
Herpes is highly contagious and potentially dangerous, so don't stay in the dark about it. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms of herpes and the different herpes tests that can be used to diagnose it.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) produces a lifelong viral infection in humans. Both of its subtypes are highly infectious and transmissible.
The first subtype, HSV-1, can cause infections of both the mouth and the genitalia. However, it is the primary cause of cold sores around the mouth (known in medical terminology as "herpes labialis"). These painful lesions can also affect the nasal passages and eyes.
HSV-2 is the main culprit behind genital herpes, outbreaks of which also cause blisters to erupt on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. During the first outbreak, which can occur from 2–12 days after exposure to the virus, these symptoms tend to be severe. The vesicles that appear break and leave behind painful ulcers that can take from two to four weeks to heal.
After this "first outbreak" episode, HSV remains in the body by invading the nerve cells, allowing it to hide from the immune system. There, it lies dormant until it reactivates, which happens sporadically. Once active, the virus uses the nerve's axon like a highway to travel to the skin, where it can begin replicating and shedding all over again.
HSV's ability to lie dormant and hidden from the immune system is one of the reasons it so often evades clinical diagnosis. Its resemblance to other skin conditions upon subsequent outbreaks, which are much milder than the initial one, are some more reasons why diagnosing genital herpes can be so difficult.
On rare occasions, both HSV subtypes can lead to aseptic meningitis.
Prevalence and Risk Factors
In the United States, the infection rate of HSV-1 is estimated at 47.8%, while that of HSV-2 is estimated at 11.9%. And although genital herpes is mainly caused by HSV-2, its infection rate is actually higher than that of HSV-2 itself. That's because HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes.
Age is not a significant risk factor. HSV can infect anyone at any age. Even a newborn can contract the disease from their infected mother during pregnancy, delivery, or the postpartum period. The primary risk factor, in any case, is coming into contact with a herpes infection.
HSV-2 was found to have been more prevalent among women (15.9%) than men (8.2%) during studies carried out from 2015–2016. This may be due to the fact that genital infections are transmitted more easily from men to women than vice versa during sexual intercourse.
Thus, an abbreviated list of risk factors for contracting genital herpes would include:
- Having unprotected sex
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having another sexually transmitted infection
- Being female
- Being immunocompromised at all
HSV-2 is also found more often among non-Hispanic blacks than non-Hispanic whites (34.6% versus 8.1%, respectively), and this disparity is present even among individuals with similar average numbers of sexual partners.
Signs or Symptoms
The following are some warning signs of herpes infection.
- Watery, blistering sores around the mouth or genitals
- Painful urination
- Itchy skin
- Flu-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Decreased appetite
- Herpes keratitis
- Eye pain
- The feeling of a foreign substance in the eye
Bear in mind that an infected person is only more contagious when their infection is active. They can still spread the virus during periods of remission!
Laboratory Tests for Herpes
Anyone displaying the signs and symptoms outlined above (or with a sexual partner infected with HSV) should consider herpes testing so that it can be detected, officially diagnosed, and treated.
There are a variety of herpes tests available, and the best one depends on the patient's circumstances. Herpes testing does involve having blood drawn, though, so it cannot be done at home with a kit. Blood needs to be drawn by a qualified phlebotomist.
Serologic testing can be performed to identify past or recent exposure to HSV. However, it cannot tell precisely when exposure occurred, nor can it determine the infection site. The most common type of serologic test is the immunoglobulin G test, which can be targeted to either one or both subtypes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a cure for herpes?
Antiviral therapy has been developed that can suppress the virus's activity, but no outright cure for either HSV-1 or HSV-2 has been found.
What kind of medication will I need to take to manage my herpes?
Antiviral drugs like acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex) can be taken to prevent or shorten herpes outbreaks, making it less likely to infect others.
Are there only two subtypes of herpes?
No. In fact, there are six others, and they form the taxonomic family known as Herpesviridae.
Order Your Herpes Test With Ulta Lab Tests
Blood work needs to be done for herpes tests, and that can be expensive and difficult. But at Ulta Lab Tests, we've done all we can to make the process affordable and convenient.
We offer tests that are accurate and reliable, so you can make informed decisions about your health. The confidential results of your herpes simplex antibody IgM or IgG test will be with you within 24–48 hours.
You won't need insurance or a referral, and the doctor's order will be included in the price. And your satisfaction is 100% guaranteed!
Take control of your health with Ulta Lab Tests today!