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Serum herpes simplex antibodies

Serum herpes simplex antibodies is a blood test that looks for antibodies to the herpes simplex virus (HSV), including HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 usually causes cold sores (oral herpes). HSV-2 causes genital herpes.

Alternative Names

Herpes serology; HSV blood test

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

No special preparation is needed for this test.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or a slight bruise. These soon go away.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is done to find out whether a person has ever been infected with oral or genital herpes . It looks for antibodies to herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). An antibody is a substance made by the body's immune system when it detects harmful substances such as the herpes virus. This test does not detect the virus itself.

Normal Results

A negative (normal) test usually means you have not been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2.

If the infection occurred very recently (within a few weeks to 3 months), the test may be negative, but you may still be infected. This is called a false negative.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A positive (abnormal) test means you have been infected with HSV recently or at some point in the past.

Tests can be done to determine if you have a recent infection.

HSV stays in your system once you have been infected. It may be "asleep" (dormant) and cause no symptoms. Or it flares up and causes symptoms. This test cannot tell whether you are having a flare-up.

Ask your health care provider how you can take care of yourself if you develop symptoms. Ask how to decrease your risk of spreading the virus to others.

Risks

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Costello M, Sabatini LM, Yungbluth M. Viral infections. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 55.

Schiffer JT, Corey L. Herpes simplex virus. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 136.

Workowski KA, Berman S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(RR-12):1-110.

Updated: 8/5/2013

Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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