Because of improvements in methodology in recent years herpes blood tests for diagnosing genital herpes have made herpes testing more accurate and reliable. Currently available FDA approved tests are highly sensitive and specific, which means they result in few false positive and few false negative herpes test results. Given the reliability of these tests, when ordered appropriately, they can provide answers to some of the puzzling questions and concerns that arise following an apparent new onset of signs and symptoms of herpes.

For the purpose of this discussion and to illustrate the central point, consider a scenario in which two individuals (partner A and partner B) have been involved in an intimate relationship for approximately one year. Partner B has been monogamous throughout the relationship and has never been diagnosed with genital herpes, but one day notices the acute onset of signs and symptoms of the disease including blisters in the genital area. After seeing a physician and being diagnosed with genital herpes via testing of fluid from the blisters partner B is rather distraught, angry, disappointed and confused.

Because partner B has never had any prior signs and symptoms of genital herpes he or she assumes that the std was contracted from partner A and wonders if partner A is aware of having it but concealed it or is unaware. Before any form of guilt is attributed to partner A however, partner B needs to be absolutely certain that the newly experienced signs and symptoms are in fact an initial outbreak and if so determine if the std was contracted from partner A. Judicious herpes testing can provide answers.

Today's commercially available herpes blood tests diagnose genital herpes by detecting antibodies produced by the body which are directed against the herpes simplex virus which causes the disease. Antibodies are small molecular particles generated by one's immune system (defense mechanism) in an attempt to fight off and rid the body of foreign particles including those that cause infection. Antibodies that are produced early on, generally within days to a few weeks following infection, are called IgM antibodies. Those that are produced much later, sometimes up to 6 months after infection, are called IgG antibodies.
Because genital herpes may not cause the body to produce IgG antibodies for weeks to months following infection the IgG test is primarily for establishing a diagnosis of chronic disease well after the initial infection. The herpes blood test which measures IgM antibodies, on the other hand, is for diagnosing acute disease unless a diagnosis has been made via testing of fluid from blisters in the area of an outbreak as was the case in the scenario presented.

IgM antibodies usually recede or vanish after the initial acute infection but IgG antibodies usually remain detectable as long as infection is present, whether it is active or latent. Since there is not any known means of eliminating the virus from the body once infection is established, IgG antibodies are presumed to remain detectable throughout the life of an individual who has been infected.

In the scenario presented partner B could prove with reasonable certainty that the disease was contracted from partner A providing partner A undergoes herpes blood testing and has elevated IgG antibodies, partner B undergoes herpes blood testing and has elevated IgM antibodies within 4-6 weeks of the outbreak, and partner B's IgM antibodies begin to decline 4-6 weeks after the genital outbreak. One caveat to relying on IgM antibodies alone to diagnose acute genital herpes and an initial outbreak however, is the discovery through recent research that in some individuals' IgM antibodies rise again during recurrent genital outbreaks, in which case herpes testing partner B with measurement of IgG antibodies at least 6 week intervals and as far out as 6 months from the initial genital herpes outbreak if necessary could confirm that partner B contracted genital herpes from partner A providing the IgG antibodies are initially not elevated but rise during the period of time just stated.

The scenario discussed in this article is but one example of how herpes blood tests can elucidate some of the questions and circumstances surrounding newly discovered genital herpes. Appropriate herpes testing can also be helpful in other scenarios depending on the circumstances if the herpes testing is done thoughtfully and methodically.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice or a substitute for medical consultation with a qualified professional. If you are seeking legal advice or are unsure about your medical condition you should consult an attorney and/or physician.

Author's Bio: 

Victor E. Battles, M.D. is a board-certified internist with 30 + years of patient contact. Dr. Battles has been a principal investigator in several clinical research trials and is the founder of Proactive Health Outlet, a resource providing self-help for improving health. For more information about herpes tests and herpes testing options visit Proactive Health Outlet.