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Health Information Center

Diagnosis of Genital Herpes

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Diagnosis of Genital Herpes

Genital herpes can be found by looking at skin sores. This may not be easy if the sores have healed. Tests may also be needed for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) based on your signs, health history, and sexual history.

Many people may feel nervous or embarrassed talking about sex, but it is vital that you do so. Home test kits are easy to get, but testing at a doctor's office is much better. If you choose to use a test kit, it is vital that you talk with a doctor.

Testing can tell between herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2).

Costs may stop some people from seeking testing. Local health or family planning offices may offer free or lower cost testing.

Viral Culture

If you have sores, a swab will be brushed over an open sore or blister to collect some fluid and cells. It is then tested to see if you have the virus. The test should be taken when you have blisters that are filled with fluid.

This type of test does not always work well. If the sores are healed and dry, the test may give a false-negative. This is when a test reads that the virus is not there when it is.

Polymerase Chain Reaction

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) spots genetic material from the virus. It can also give a false-negative, but the PCR test works much better.

Blood Tests

Blood tests may be done to look for HSV antibodies. These are made by the body to fight things like viruses. Certain antibodies are made for certain viruses. If the blood tests show HSV antibodies, you most likely have the virus.


  • 2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated January 25, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Genital herpes. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114875/Genital-herpes . Updated February 19, 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Genital herpes. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/herpesviruses/genital-herpes. Updated February 2018. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet (detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Updated February 9, 2017. Accessed August 10, 2018.
  • Groves MJ. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2016;93(11):928-934.


  • Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.