Diagnosing and Treating Genital Herpes

There are a variety of ways to both diagnose and treat herpes. What type of diagnostic procedure and herpes treatment you receive depend on whether or not you have any herpes symptoms.

Diagnosing Genital Herpes

People who are experiencing a herpes outbreak may be able to receive a diagnosis from their doctor simply through a visual examination of the herpes bumps or lesions. However, herpes sores tend to resemble syphilis lesions making a visual diagnosis less reliable. Furthermore, herpes sores may not be present or visible (as in the case of vaginal herpes) which is why an actual herpes test is often a more accurate way of identifying a herpes infection.

Tzanck Test
This test can only be done when a person is having a herpes outbreak. For the test, a tissue sample is scraped off the surface of the lesion. It is then stained and examined under a microscope to see if any cells contain multiple nuclei. If the cells do contain an abundant amount of nuclei, then a herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection is likely. However, this test tends to be between 50% and 70% accurate and it cannot distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 or even HSV and herpes zoster (the strain associated with shingles). Results of the test can be produced fairly quickly, though.

Viral Culture
This type of diagnostic test can be as much as 100% accurate so long as the test is done while your herpes sores are still in the clear blister stage and haven't scabbed over. To test the lesion, a fluid sample is taken from the sore. For the best results, the sample should be taken within three days of the blisters appearance. The sample is then left to culture and analyzed for the presence of the herpes virus. Results of this test can take from 24 hours to a few days.

Blood Tests
A blood test can be performed regardless of whether or not there are any herpes sores present. For this test, a sample of your blood is taken and analyzed for HSV antibodies. While the test is 85% accurate in determining a herpes infection, it is 100% accurate at identifying whether you are infected with herpes simplex virus 1 or herpes simplex virus 2. While a blood test used to have to be sent to a lab for analysis, a new type of blood test has been developed and approved by the FDA, which your doctor can perform in her office. Called the POCkit (Point of Care kit), this herpes test can provide an accurate result in 10 minutes.

Herpes Treatments: Cures for Herpes

Herpes medication generally consist of three types of drugs: acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir). All three work to hasten the healing of herpes sores and can also work to suppress an outbreak. However, they cannot prevent herpes transmission nor are they a herpes cure. Currently, there is no cure for herpes.

Depending on the location of the outbreak, this herpes prescription drug can be administered either through pills, injections or topical creams. The topical treatment tends to be the least effective of the three while the injections can cause blood clots at the site of injection as well as increase your risk of kidney problems. Oral medications are a common genital herpes treatment. However, repeat doses are usually required and these herpes pills can include some unpleasant side effects, such as nausea/vomiting, headaches, exhaustion, rash, tremors and, rarely, seizures.

Once this drug reaches the liver and intestines, it is converted into acyclovir. As a result, your body receives a higher concentration of the drug but without increasing the toxicity level. This means fewer doses are required. However, those people who have a compromised immune system will have a higher risk of developing blood clots with the use of this drug.

This herpes treatment is not as effective at combating the symptoms of HSV-2 compared to acyclovir. Once this drug comes into contact with an enzyme produced by the herpes virus, it is converted into penciclovir. Penciclovir is typically used as an ointment to treat areas of skin affected by herpes.

If your body is resistant to the usual medication in herpes prescriptions, or if some other health issue prevents you from taking these medications, another drug may be prescribed.

Possible Future Treatments

Researchers are testing various drugs that work to enhance your immune system thereby helping to prevent herpes outbreaks. Additionally, a herpes vaccine has been in the works for a number of years now and many scientists are hoping to see an effective vaccine on the market within the next five years. While universal immunization would help to drastically reduce the number of people infected with herpes, it would do little to help those already infected.


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