Diagnosing herpes

Generally, a doctor will make a type one herpes diagnosis that results in cold sores just by looking at you during a physical exam. However, he or she will initially sit you down and discuss your symptoms with you. He or she will then request a physical exam and examine the sores wherever they occur on your body. If you notice any sores on your genitals, it’s important that you admit so to your doctor. It will be uncomfortable during your consultation, but your doctor will handle this with utmost professionalism and care.

Your doctor may ask you a series of questions during the discussion. This is to start narrowing down potential reasons for feeling unwell. If he or she strongly suspects the HSV virus, you may be asked if you have potentially been exposed to someone with an active infection (i.e. Have you been around anyone recently who has sores or blisters around their mouth or nose?)

You may also be asked if you have had similar symptoms before, or whether you have a history of problematic skin and inflammatory breakouts (such as sores, blisters or even a rash). Other questions can include:

  • Have you noticed anything specific that may have triggered your overall symptoms?
  • If you’ve experienced cold sores and applied treatment, what did you use and was it effective?
  • Are you currently going through any stressful situations in your personal life or at work or school?
  • Do you regularly interact with babies and young children who experience illnesses?
  • If you’re a woman, is there a possibility or are you pregnant?

If you are taking any medications or supplements, your doctor will wish to note these as well.

Tests for HSV (Herpes simplex virus)

If your doctor feels it necessary, he or she may recommend a blood test to look for signs of the HSV-1 and HSV-2 viruses in your system. Your doctor may also suggest a herpes viral culture or lesion test. For this he or she will swab or scrape one of your fluid-filled blisters or sores (usually this is best done at the peak of your outbreak) and send to the laboratory for testing. Once at the laboratory, the sample is placed in a dish and observed for a minimum of 16 hours or up to 7 days. This is to monitor the growth of a virus, once the type of virus is confirmed. Your doctor should likely be in-the-know about your sample within a period of two to four days.

Tests may only really be recommended if there are any signs that a potential infection poses a significant health risk. The virus can, for instance, be quite serious for children and adults with impaired or compromised immune systems. Any type of virus in the body can become, in severe instances, life-threatening for anyone with a weakened or compromised immune system. A correct and accurate diagnosis can ensure that appropriate treatment is implemented timeously.

If your symptoms include any problems or concerns with one or both eyes, tests may be ordered as well. If you are pregnant, your doctor will automatically recommend tests as any viral presence in the body can lead to serious complications for an unborn baby.

Both tests can confirm the presence of infection and help to make a diagnosis. A blood test may be preferred if you do not have any blisters but display other associated symptoms that your doctor may want to check for or rule out in the diagnosis process.

The final result of a herpes viral culture of lesion test depends on whether or not the virus displayed any growth during observation in the laboratory. Results will be classified as negative if the virus did not grow during the period of observation / testing. For your doctor, this will indicate that you do not have an active herpes infection. A negative result does not necessarily mean that you do not have a herpes infection, however. Signs of growth during observation indicates a positive result and that the blisters or sores are infected (active) with the virus.

Chances are tests may not be necessary and your doctor will physically assess you and then recommend the best ways to care for your symptoms and the outbreak of sores. If you’re familiar with cold sores and blisters, you yourself will be able to recognise a recurrence when it happens. If mild enough, you may not even need to consult your doctor.

If you note any other unusual symptoms or physical irritations, as well as if your sores and overall symptoms do not resolve on their own within a week or two, consult your doctor to be on the safe side. Your doctor can then step in and assist with more effective measure to treat your symptoms.

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