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 transmitted through kissing or sharing drinking glasses and utensils with a person who has an HSV infection.
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 have the infection.
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 an HSV infection 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 contracted an HSV infection. If you have the antibodies to HSV, you’ll 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 contracted an HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. 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
- muscle aches
- 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’ve ever had an HSV infection, you’ll continue to have antibodies to HSV in your blood for the rest of your life, whether you’re having an outbreak or not.
A serum herpes simplex antibodies test involves taking a small sample of blood. Your doctor 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:
- bruising around the puncture site
In rare cases, you may develop an infection where the skin was punctured.
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.
A negative test result is considered normal. This generally means that you’ve never contracted an HSV infection.
However, it’s possible for your results to come back negative even if you’ve contracted the infection within the past few months. This is referred to as a false negative.
Your body will typically take several weeks to develop IgG antibodies to HSV.
If you’re tested earlier in your infection, it’s possible to have a false negative result. Your doctor may recommend that you return in 2 to 3 weeks to be retested.
A positive test result for HSV-1 or HSV-2 indicates that you’ve contracted 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 transmission of your HSV infection.
When a serum antibody test is recommended for HSV, IgG detection is preferred. In fact, some laboratories are discontinuing their IgM tests in the future.