If you think you have genital herpes because you have a sore on or near your genitals, a doctor or nurse can test the sore itself and diagnose you. But how do you test for herpes if you have no symptoms and are simply worried you've been exposed to the virus? There is a blood test available, but experts disagree about whether its worth the trouble. Here are a few arguments for not bothering with the herpes blood test.
Herpes is rarely serious
Herpes is an extremely common and widely feared infection, but in most cases it's not very serious. "Most genital herpes infections are asymptomatic and the fear of herpes is more psychological than it is physical," H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert, tells Health. "It's basically just a skin disease."
Some genital herpes tests are unreliable
If you do get a herpes blood test, Dr. Handsfield says to make sure its a “type-specific” test, which he finds much more reliable than other types.
It's not always clear what to do with herpes test results
For Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, an STD specialist at the University of Washington Medical School, the problem with herpes testing isn't the tests themselves. "Its under debate whether herpes testing is cost-effective and really going to improve people's psychosocial health," Dr. Marrazzo tells Health. "If it's positive, it may be difficult to figure out where you got it. If you've never had symptoms, there's the question of whether or not you go on suppressive therapy."
A note about suppressive therapy for genital herpes
If you do test positive, taking an anti-viral drug (such as Valtrex) regularly may help you avoid outbreaks and reduce viral shedding, which means you're less likely to infect sex partners. The drugs are fairly benign, Dr. Marrazzo says, but she questions whether it's really worth treating a relatively harmless, incurable infection if it was causing you no symptoms. "The main side effect is you're taking a drug every day and you're paying for it. Do you really want to go on a drug every day?"