A serum herpes simplex antibodies test is a blood test that checks for the presence of antibodies to the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is a common infection that causes herpes. Herpes can appear in various parts of the body, but it most commonly affects the genitals or mouth. The two types of herpes infections are HSV-1 and HSV-2.
HSV-1, commonly known as oral herpes, usually causes cold sores and blisters near the mouth and on the face. It’s spread through kissing or sharing drinking glasses and utensils with an infected person. HSV-2 is typically responsible for causing genital herpes. It’s generally transmitted through sexual contact. HSV-1 and HSV-2 don’t always cause symptoms, and people may not know they’re infected.
The serum herpes simplex antibodies test doesn’t actually check for the HSV infection itself. However, it can determine whether someone has antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are special proteins that the body uses to defend itself against invading organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This means that most people who have been infected with HSV will have the corresponding antibodies. The test can detect antibodies for both types of HSV infections.
Your doctor may order a serum herpes simplex antibodies test if they suspect you have an HSV infection. The results will determine whether you’ve been infected with HSV. If you have the antibodies to HSV, then you will test positive even if you don’t currently show any symptoms.
Your doctor may order a serum herpes simplex antibodies test to determine whether you’ve ever been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2. They may suspect you have HSV if you’re showing symptoms. The virus doesn’t always cause symptoms, but when it does, you may experience the following symptoms.
The symptoms of HSV-1 are:
- small, fluid-filled blisters around the mouth
- a tingling or burning sensation around the mouth or nose
- a fever
- a sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes in the neck
The symptoms of HSV-2 are:
- small blisters or open sores in the genital area
- a tingling or burning sensation in the genital area
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- a fever
- muscle aches
- a headache
- painful urination
Even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms, the accuracy of the serum herpes simplex antibodies test won’t be affected. Since the test checks for antibodies to the virus, it can be performed even when the infection isn’t causing a herpes outbreak. If you have ever been infected with HSV, you will continue to have antibodies to HSV in your blood for the rest of your life, whether you are having an outbreak or not.
A serum herpes simplex antibodies test involves taking a small sample of blood. A healthcare provider will take a blood sample by doing the following:
- They’ll first clean and disinfect the area with an antiseptic.
- Then, they’ll wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to make your veins swell with blood.
- Once they find a vein, they’ll gently insert the needle into the vein. In most cases, they’ll use a vein on the inside of your elbow. In infants or young children, a sharp instrument called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin instead.
- The blood will be collected in a small tube or vial attached to the needle.
- After they draw enough blood, they’ll remove the needle and cover the puncture site to stop any bleeding.
- They’ll collect the blood onto a test strip or into a small tube called a pipette.
- They’ll place a bandage over the area if there’s any bleeding.
- The blood sample will then be sent to a laboratory to be tested for the presence of antibodies to HSV.
The serum herpes simplex antibodies test doesn’t have any unique risks. Some people may experience inflammation, pain, or bruising around the puncture site. In rare cases, people develop an infection where the skin was punctured.
A negative test result is considered normal. This generally means that you’ve never been infected with HSV. However, it’s possible for your results to come back negative even if you’ve been infected within the past few months. This is referred to as a false negative. Your body will usually take about 12-16 weeks after the exposure to form antibodies to the virus, so if you get an antibody test within this time period, you may have a false negative result despite being infected.
Additionally, you should be aware that there are two possible antibodies that your body can make to HSV-1 and HSV-2. These are IgM and IgG. IgM is the antibody that is made first, and typically represents a current or acute infection, although this may not always be the case. IgG is made after the IgM antibody, and typically will be present in the bloodstream for the rest of your life. The presences of IgG does not indicate a current infection, however. It only indicates that you have been exposed to HSV at some point in your life.
A positive test result for HSV-1 or HSV-2 indicates that you’ve been infected with either virus at some point. The results also allow your doctor to differentiate between HSV-1 and HSV-2, which isn’t always possible by visually examining the sores. Depending on your results, you and your doctor can discuss ways to treat and prevent the spread of your HSV infection.