If you think you may have a herpes lesion, a doctor or nurse can test the sore itself—but what if you have no symptoms and are simply worried youve 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.
1. 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," says H. Hunter Handsfield, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle and a nationally recognized STD expert. "It's basically just a skin disease."
2. Some 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.
3. It's not always clear what to do with the 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 says. "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
If you test positive, taking an anti-viral drug may help you avoid outbreaks and reduce viral shedding, which means youre 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?"