The serum herpes simplex antibodies test is designed to determine whether you have been infected with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This test does not actually check for the virus itself. Instead, it determines whether you have antibodies to HSV.
Your body forms antibodies 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. By testing for these antibodies, doctors can check whether you have been infected with HSV. If you have the antibodies to HSV, you will test positive even if you do not currently show any symptoms.
This test works for both kinds of HSV: HSV-1 and HSV-2. In most (but not all) cases, HSV-1 causes oral herpes (cold sores). HSV-2, on the other hand, usually causes genital herpes.
Your doctor or other healthcare provider will draw a sample of your blood. If you have ever had your blood drawn, you are already familiar with the procedure. There is nothing unique or unusual about this test compared to any other blood draw.
The blood sample that your healthcare provider takes will then be sent to a laboratory. It will be tested for antibodies to HSV.
The serum herpes simplex antibodies test itself does not have any unique risks. In rare cases, you might experience inflammation of your vein or infection. More commonly, you can expect minor issues such as pain during the process, slight bleeding, and a small bruise.
Your doctor will order this test to determine whether you have ever been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2. Because the virus stays in your body forever, you do not need to have any symptoms for the test to be accurate. However, if you have had symptoms that suggest you have HSV-1 or HSV-2, your doctor may order this test to confirm that you have been infected.
For example, your doctor might order the test if you have had what appear to be cold sores around your mouth or blisters that may be genital herpes.
Some tests for herpes can only be performed during an outbreak because they involve testing the fluid from a blister or sore. Because the serum herpes simplex antibodies test checks for antibodies, it can be performed even when you are not currently suffering from symptoms. This means your doctor will probably use it if he or she thinks you may have previously been infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2 but you are not currently showing any symptoms.
A negative result on this test is considered normal. This generally means that you have not been infected with HSV. However, your results could come back negative if you have been infected within the past few months. This is referred to as a false negative.
A positive result to HSV-1 or HSV-2 indicates that you have been infected at some point. The serum herpes simplex antibodies test also allows your physician to differentiate between HSV-1 and HSV-2, which is not always possible through a visual examination of the sores.
Keep in mind that these are not rare conditions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 70 percent of adults have HSV-1 antibodies and 20 percent of adults have HSV-2 antibodies (NIH, 2011).