What is herpes simplex virus?
Herpes simplex virus is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) responsible for sores on the mouth or genitals. The sores can be excruciating, however, the virus normally does not lead to serious health implications.
Herpes is a lifelong infection that, in most cases, remains latent for a larger portion in the life of an infected person. The herpes simplex virus is typically manifested in 2 strains:
- Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV 1)
- Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV 2)
Both of the aforementioned strains are characterized by sores or inflammatory skin diseases which are typically a burst of deep-lying blisters (erythema) usually found on and around the anus, inner thighs, lips, mouth, scrotum, vulva, throat, vagina, penis, cervix, and on rare occasions, the eyes. These itchy and painful sores or blisters usually come and go.
Mode of transmission
The virus can be transmitted and contracted through simple skin-to-skin contact with infected parts of the body. However, HSV 2 transmission can occur during kissing; oral, anal, and vaginal sex remains the chief mode of transmission and contraction.
In most cases, you may be carrying the infection without any symptoms and on the other hand, the sores may be mistaken for something else. This has contributed greatly to recent herpes simplex virus epidemics.
Diagnosis of herpes simplex virus
It takes more than a simple look at the eruptions of blisters and sores to correctly diagnose herpes.
There are several test methods available:
- The viral culture and DNA test
- The antigen detection
- The blood test
The viral culture and DNA tests are only effective in the diagnosis of patients with sores or any other form of visible symptoms that can be swabbed.
However, as sores begin to heal and the activity of virus begins to decline, there are very high possibilities of producing false negatives (i.e. when test result show that an infected person is free of the virus). Consequently, this, and the challenge of swabbing individuals without sores or who are asymptomatic limits the potency and reliability of this testing method.
Herpes simplex blood test
It can be stressful and emotionally draining when wondering if you have herpes or not.
Thus the herpes blood test comes as a respite when you know you have been exposed through unprotected sex and need to be sure, especially when there are no visible signs or symptoms that can be linked to HSV 1 or HSV 2 virus or swabbed for the viral culture test.
In effect, the blood test is used when you are asymptomatic (show no symptoms) but have these worrying concerns about a possible infection. Be that as it may, unlike the viral culture test, this test does not screen for the herpes simplex virus but the antibodies (your body’s defensive response) in your blood.
Herpes blood test accuracy
Several questions regarding the herpes blood test accuracy have arisen since the test does not typically screen for the virus. Nevertheless, the herpes blood test can produce an accurate and reliable diagnosis.
How does the herpes blood test work?
Whenever a person is infected with the herpes virus, the body’s immune system responds in defense by producing antibodies such as the HSV IgM and HSV IgG to combat the virus head-on.
The blood test then screens for the presence of these HSV antibodies and also measures their levels in your body if they are present. This test method is effective for herpes screening when there are no symptoms or herpes sores visible.
HSV IgM vs HSV IgG
HSV IgM is the initial antibody that your body produces in response to the herpes simplex virus infection; this dissipates with time. The HSV IgG, on the other hand, is the other antibody that your body produces later on post-infection to combat the herpes simplex virus. Unlike the HSV IgM, this remains in the body for as long as you live.
The HSV IgM test is usually not recommended due to its brief cameo and other serious concerns such as:
- Its ability to blend with another virus of the same genus, especially the chicken pox virus (varicella zoster) and mono virus (cytomegalovirus). This implies that “false positives” may arise from these tests.
- The inability of the test to precisely distinguish the antibodies of HSV 1 from HSV 2 makes one susceptible to giving HSV 2 false positive results. For example, persons with antibodies for HSV 1 may also get HSV 2 false positives.
Nonetheless, any accurate herpes blood test should be one that is able to screen for HSV IgG antibodies.
The HSV IgG blood test can precisely distinguish between HSV 1 and HSV 2. The only challenge with this herpes specificity test is that it takes time (usually between 10 to 16 weeks post exposure) for the body to fully develop the IgG antibodies. This implies that taking the test earlier may produce “false negative” results.
There are herpes testing toolkits recently developed that can produce results with over a 99% clinical accuracy and reliability.