At-Home Genital and Oral Herpes Testing
- Also Known As:
- Herpes Test
- At-Home Herpes Test
- Herpes Type 1 Test
- Herpes Type 2 Test
Test Quick Guide
Genital and oral herpes are common viral infections caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). They are two of eight types of herpesviruses. HSVs are transmitted easily through skin-to-skin and sexual contact, as well as saliva. Herpes can not be transmitted from toilet seats, bedding, swimming pools, or common household objects (silverware, towels, etc.) It can spread even when symptoms are not present.
After an initial herpes outbreak, HSV remains in the body and becomes inactive, also called dormant or latent, and does not cause symptoms. If the virus becomes active again, patients experience an outbreak of lesions or sores at the same site as the initial infection.
Several kinds of tests can be used to detect an HSV infection. At-home tests use a blood sample to detect antibodies associated with an HSV infection. This can provide information about whether you have ever had an infection with the two main types of HSV.
In most cases though, at-home herpes blood testing cannot definitively show whether you have an active HSV infection. Physician-ordered testing is often necessary to confirm a diagnosis of genital or oral herpes.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
The purpose of at-home testing for genital and oral herpes is to look for evidence of past exposure to HSV and cannot distinguish between past and present HSV infections.
Knowing whether a patient has had an HSV infection can play a role in diagnosis, prevention, and screening for herpes simplex viruses and their potential complications.
Types of herpes simplex viruses
There are two types of herpes simplex viruses:
- Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1): HSV-1 often causes cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or around the mouth and are common symptoms of an oral herpes infection. This type of HSV can be seen in children as well as adults.
- Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2): HSV-2 is the usual cause of genital herpes and is classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The CDC has estimated that one of every six people between the ages of 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
Although HSV-2 is most often associated with genital herpes, both types of HSV can cause an oral or genital infection.
Uses of at-home herpes tests
There are different ways that an at-home blood test for oral and gentical herpes may be used:
- Diagnosis: For people with active lesions or sores, direct testing of a sample taken from the lesion is the preferred diagnostic test and must be ordered by a doctor. However, when no active lesion is available to be tested, an at-home blood test can provide information about whether past symptoms could have been caused by HSV. Confirmation of HSV infection performed by a doctor may be required after an at-home test.
- Prevention: An at-home test can help determine if you are a carrier of HSV. If results are negative, an at-home test can help you understand that you may be susceptible to infection. In this way, testing may be used as part of a broader STD screening process.
- Screening: Blood testing may influence prevention or treatment for people who are at a higher risk of developing complications from an HSV infection.
What does the test measure?
At-home genital and oral herpes testing detects antibodies to the herpes simplex virus. Antibodies are produced by a person’s immune system to defend the body against a potentially harmful substance, called an antigen.
Antibodies to HSV are only present in patients who have been infected with HSV at some point in their life. At-home genital and oral herpes tests cannot distinguish between a new or recent infection and an infection that occured in the past.
Antibodies to HSV are specific to the type of HSV and develop within a few weeks of being exposed to the virus but may take longer depending on the type of herpes. Antibodies to HSV remain in the body indefinitely. Some at-home kits test for only one type of herpes while others test for both HSV-1 and HSV2.
After a person’s first outbreak of genital or oral herpes, the virus initially infects a person’s skin cells and eventually moves to their nerve cells. The virus may stay inactive in the nerve cells forever without causing another outbreak, or it may become active again in the future.
Testing for other herpesviruses
While at-home tests are often called herpes tests, it’s important to keep in mind that these tests do not detect all forms of herpesvirus, including shingles, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and cytomegalovirus (CMV). When purchasing an at-home herpes test, it’s important to look carefully at the types of herpesvirus the test is designed to detect.
When should I get a genital and oral herpes test?
In general, genital and oral herpes testing is only recommended for patients that show symptoms of an HSV infection, patients who are at an increased risk of contracting the virus (i.e., immunocompromised people), and patients who may develop severe complications from an infection.
There are no expert guidelines for when to use an at-home genital and oral herpes test. Lab-based testing overseen by a doctor is typically recommended for patients experiencing active symptoms that could be caused by an HSV infection. Symptoms of HSV infection may be mild or severe, including:
- Itching, burning, or tingling near the site of infection
- Blisters or rashes
- Sore throat
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Pain when swallowing
- Muscle aches
- Decreased appetite
- Pain during urination
- Vaginal discharge
Genital and oral herpes testing may also be recommended for certain groups of people, including:
- Sexual partners of people diagnosed with genital herpes
- People looking for a comprehensive STD test panel, particularly those with multiple sexual partners
- Infants born to a parent with an HSV infection, as herpes can spread to the baby during pregnancy.
Outside of these groups of people, screening for herpes in patients without symptoms or the above factors is not recommended by expert groups.
If a patient is concerned about having genital or oral herpes, it’s important to talk to a doctor. A doctor can assess the patient’s risk for HSV, discuss testing strategies, and evaluate whether at-home testing is appropriate.
Benefits and Downsides of At-Home Genital and Oral Herpes Testing
To decide if at-home genital and oral herpes testing is right for you, it’s important to remember that this form of testing has both benefits and downsides.
Benefits of at-home genital and oral herpes testing include:
- Transparent pricing: Costs can add up quickly when patients have testing performed in a doctor’s office or other medical facility. At-home testing offers transparent pricing that allows patients to rest assured that they understand the total price of genital and oral herpes testing.
- Privacy: At-home testing is private and convenient. Patients can order an at-home genital and oral herpes test kit when they want without having to make an appointment at a medical office or clinic.
- Easy to use: Testing for antibodies to HSV at home is a straightforward and simple process: order your test kit online, collect a small sample of blood from a simple finger prick using supplies contained in the test kit, and return your sample to the laboratory. Unlike testing performed by a doctor, there’s no waiting room or blood draw from your arm.
The downsides of at-home genital and oral herpes testing include:
- Limited test options: At-home genital and oral herpes tests only detect antibodies to HSV. There are several other types of tests for HSV available through a doctor’s office or laboratory. In addition to antibody tests, doctors can order a herpes viral culture, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, or a Tzanck smear. These tests are more accurate but also take more time to get results and are more expensive to perform.
- Unable to distinguish past and present infection: An at-home test cannot tell you when you were infected with an HSV infection, which limits its role as a diagnostic test for active symptoms. In fact, it can take a week or more for an initial antibody response and eventually reaches a peak in 2-4 weeks. Therefore, an at-home test may come back negative if you have recently contracted oral or genital herpes.
- Not recommended by experts: According to the CDC, there is no evidence that screening people without symptoms of HSV is beneficial. Testing does not appear to change sexual behavior or reduce the spread of this virus. Experts warn that the emotional harm and stigma associated with having genital or oral herpes outweighs the potential benefits of screening.
- Risks of false-positive results: False-positive test results occur when a test incorrectly gives a positive result despite the patient not having the condition. While false positive results are possible in many STD tests, inaccurate results can carry more risks in conditions like herpes that are incurable, life-long, and may carry stigma.
As you consider the benefits and downsides of at-home genital and oral herpes testing, it may be helpful to talk with a doctor or other health professional about testing for HSV in your specific case. It is especially important to talk with a doctor if you have active symptoms of a herpes infection.
Types of At-Home Genital and Oral Herpes Tests
There are several options for at-home herpes tests. The following sections describe some of our picks for the best at-home genital and oral herpes tests:
LetsGetChecked – Herpes Test
Tests for: HSV-1, HSV-2
Results timeline: 2 to 5 days after sample is received
LetsGetChecked offers one of the few at-home options to test for two herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1, most often associated with oral herpes, and HSV-2, generally associated with genital herpes. This comprehensive approach, combined with their quick results, makes the Herpes Test from LetsGetChecked our pick for the best overall at-home herpes test.
The test kit provides everything you need to collect a small sample of blood at home and send it to a lab to be analyzed.
To collect your sample you will use a medical device called a lancet. The tiny needle in the lancet pricks the skin just enough to draw a few drops of blood from a fingertip. You can then place the blood in the provided collection tube. After sealing the tube, put it in the provided bag, place the bag in the prepaid shipping package, and mail it to the CLIA-approved lab.
Once your sample arrives at one of LetsGetChecked’s partner labs, it’s tested for both HSV-1 and HSV-2. You can view your results in your secure online account within 2-5 days. If your test results are positive for HSV-1 or HSV-2, you can speak with the medical support team at LetsGetChecked, which is available 24/7 to answer your questions and provide treatment information.
Because antibodies to HSV-1 and HSV-2 do not appear in the body for at least a few weeks after exposure, testing too soon can produce a negative result in someone who is, in fact, infected with herpes. If you’re interested in regular screening tests for herpes or other sexually transmitted infections, LetsGetChecked offers a subscription program with several options for testing frequency.
Best for Discreet Shipping
myLAB Box – At-Home Herpes Test
Tests for: HSV-2
Results timeline: 2 to 5 days after sample is received
The At-Home Herpes Test from myLAB Box is our top pick for discreet shipping. Test kits are shipped in inconspicuous packaging and include a low-profile return envelope. Shipping is also fast and free in both directions.
Testing for HSV-2 is simple with myLAB Box. Order your test kit online, collect a blood sample at home, and return your sample to the lab. Lab-certified results are available within 2-5 days. If you test positive, myLAB Box will provide a free phone consultation with a physician to discuss your results.
The At-Home Herpes Test kit includes all of the supplies you need to collect a sample in five minutes. Instructions will walk you through using a lancet, collecting your sample, and packaging it for return shipping.
Testing at myLAB Box is conducted at CLIA-certified laboratories that are qualified to perform high-complexity clinical testing. In 2-5 days, you will receive an email with a link to where you can access your results on myLAB Box’s secure online portal.
iDNA Herpes 2 Test
Tests for: HSV-2
Results timeline: 2 to 7 days after sample is received
iDNA® (I Do Need Answers®) is a sexual wellness service that enables you to choose the STD testing strategy that works best for you. They offer individual STD tests and several pre-designed test kits. You also have the option to customize a kit with any of their individual STD tests.
The iDNA Herpes 2 Test detects HSV-2 without having to make a doctor’s appointment or lab visit. After filling out your information online, your iDNA test kit will arrive in 3-5 business days, although there are several options for faster shipping.
When your test kit arrives, it will include a QR code you can use to create your online account, register your kit, and access detailed instructions on how to collect your samples. Use the enclosed blood collection kit to collect your sample, then place it in the provided biohazard bag and slip it into the prepaid return shipping box.
Once your sample arrives at the lab, it is analyzed using an antibody test to detect the presence of IgG antibodies, which are produced by your immune system a few weeks after exposure to HSV-2. Results of your HSV-2 test are usually available in two to seven days on iDNA’s online portal.
iDNA offers free retesting after a positive result. If you’d like to confirm the findings, you can request a free one-time retest of HSV-2 and only pay for shipping and handling.
Health Testing Centers Herpes Type 2 Test Kit
Tests for: HSV-2
Results timeline: 3 to 4 business days after sample is received
While many at-home testing companies don’t offer written instructions before your test kit arrives, Health Testing Centers provides clear, detailed test instructions on their user-friendly website. The instructions also include helpful tips for successful sample collection, making the Herpes Type 2 Test Kit from Health Testing Centers our selection for clearest instructions.
After placing an order online, your test kit is sent out. It will arrive with all of the supplies needed to collect a blood sample. Start by filling out your personal information on the test kit and reading the provided instructions. Then wash your hands and clean your fingertip using an alcohol pad.
The test kit includes a lancet, which is used to draw blood by puncturing the skin on a non-dominant finger. As drops of blood form, carefully touch them to the circles on the blood from the test kit. Be sure to get enough blood to fill each of the circles completely.
After collecting your sample, allow the blood card to dry on a flat surface for 15 minutes. Then close the blood card and place it in the biohazard bag. Your sample is now ready to return to the laboratory for testing. The lab will make your results available 3-4 days after they receive the sample.
Remember that testing too soon after exposure to herpes can lead to a negative result even if you are infected. It takes several weeks for antibodies to build up in the body.
Interpreting At-Home Test Results
The results of at-home genital and oral herpes testing detail whether antibodies to HSV were detected in the blood sample used for testing. A patient’s test report may describe results as negative, positive, or inconclusive.
A positive test result means that antibodies to HSV were found in the sample. This result means that a patient was infected with HSV at some point. A test for HSV antibodies cannot tell if they are having a current outbreak or if the virus is dormant. Blood antibody testing also cannot determine if an infection is oral or genital.
A negative result means that antibodies to HSV were not found in the test sample. There are several potential causes of a negative test result:
- The patient has never been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2
- A patient’s HSV infection is too recent. If infection occurred before the body was able to produce sufficient antibodies for a positive test result, typically within a couple of weeks to three months, the test may return a false negative result.
An inconclusive result may occur if the finger isn’t sufficiently disinfected or if an inadequate amount of blood sample is collected.
An at-home genital and oral herpes test report may also include information about the type of antibodies detected in the blood sample. Determining whether a patient’s infection was caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 can help guide a patient’s medical care.
Are test results accurate?
Testing is an important step in accurately diagnosing genital and oral herpes, and there are several types of tests that may be used to establish a diagnosis. Although blood antibody testing is appropriate for some patients, it’s not considered the most accurate way of diagnosing a current HSV infection. Experts have several concerns about using blood testing to diagnose genital and oral herpes:
- Accuracy of tests vary: Not all commercially available blood tests that detect antibodies to HSV have the same level of accuracy due to shared characteristics of the different types of herpesviruses. For example, persons who were infected with the chickenpox/shingles virus may have a higher risk of false positive results.
- Not all tests describe the type of HSV: Some blood tests cannot tell the difference between antibodies to HSV-1 and antibodies to HSV-2, so they require additional laboratory testing to determine the kind of antibody detected.
- Can’t tell between genital and oral infections: Unlike tests that require a sample taken during an outbreak, blood antibody tests cannot distinguish between a genital (HSV-2) and oral (HSV-1) infections because either can be found at both sites, so at-home tests alone cannot diagnose genital or oral herpes.
Although there are drawbacks to at-home genital and oral herpes tests, there are situations in which blood antibody testing may be appropriate. Patients interested in at-home genital and oral herpes testing should talk to their doctor about their individual circumstances and the accuracy of test results.
Do I need follow-up tests?
Follow-up testing may be necessary to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of genital or oral herpes. In general, confirmation testing using a different laboratory method than the first test is recommended after HSV antibody testing conducted with a blood sample.
If a patient receives a negative test result but has symptoms that are suggestive of genital or oral herpes, doctors may recommend additional testing. This also applies to patients who may have been exposed to HSV within the previous 12 weeks or before sufficient antibodies can develop in the body.
For patients who receive a positive test result, additional testing may be needed if the original blood antibody test didn’t identify the type of HSV causing a patient’s infection.
If a patient is confirmed to have genital or oral herpes, their doctor may recommend treatment. While there is no cure for an HSV infection, treatment for herpes can reduce outbreaks and decrease the likelihood of spreading HSV to sexual partners. For most, HSV infections may result in only minor health problems, but for some, significant complications may occur.
Questions for your doctor after at-home testing
The following questions about the results of at-home genital and oral herpes testing may be helpful for patients to discuss with their doctor:
- Is my at-home herpes test result reliable?
- What is the most likely explanation for my test result?
- Are there any follow-up tests that you recommend?
- How should I discuss my test result with sexual partners?
Comparing and contrasting laboratory and at-home herpes testing
There are significant differences between genital and oral herpes tests conducted at-home and those ordered by a doctor.
Several important tests used to diagnose genital and oral herpes are not available as at-home tests. Herpes viral cultures and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, both of which are only conducted in-lab, are the preferred tests for patients during a genital or oral herpes outbreak.
Although in-lab testing is more appropriate for most patients, it can be inconvenient and may cost more than at-home testing.
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