Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Herpes Simplex Virus

Herpes simplex virus is transmitted by vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus, whether they are having an outbreak or not. Also, you can get herpes simplex-2 from having oral sex with someone who has a cold sore (herpes simplex-1). The incubation period after exposure to the virus is a few days to three weeks before symptoms (if any) appear.

Diagnosing herpes simplex virus

A diagnosis of herpes may begin with a physical exam (including a pelvic exam for women) and a discussion of your symptoms. Tests may include:

  • Swab test: Your physician may take a small sample of the virus by swabbing your sores.
  • Blood test: If you have no sores, a blood sample will be taken to help identify the virus.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): This test looks for the herpes simplex virus in your cerebrospinal fluid if you have symptoms of encephalitis (infection of the brain) or meningitis (infection of the brain or spinal cord).

If your physician suspects herpes, do not kiss or have sex with someone else until:

  • The test comes back negative
  • You have finished the antiviral medication and the outbreak is over.

Diagnostic Tests