This is a second article in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases series I began the last week.  In this article we will review another in this group of diseases commonly known as Herpes.

There are various types of Human herpes viruses (HSV) commonly know as “herpes”.  The most commonly known are:

  • HSV 1 – Herpes Simplexvirus 1 causes Herpes Labialis (mouth soars)
  • HSV2 – Herpes Simplexvirus 2 causes Herpes Genitalis (genital herpes)

HSV 1 and HSV 2

HSV 1 remains predominantly on the lips and mouth (i.e. “fever blisters”). HSV 2 remains predominantly in the genital areas. Although not common for HSV 1, both viruses can actually cause genital herpes.  Genital herpes is considered a sexually transmitted disease (STD). 

If you suspect that you are infected and must have confidential testing, there are resources where you can obtain testing.  However, the most recommended way to find out is to contact your doctor and ask to be tested.  Ultimately knowing you have the disease is only the first step.  You must seek prompt treatment from your doctor to reduce your symptoms and prevent infection to others.


Most people who are infected are unaware of their infection until the first outbreak.  This is manifested with painful open sores usually in the genital area which may occur about 2 weeks after infection.  It is important to note, however, that some people may not get soars and do get very mild symptoms that can be confused with other skin conditions.  Others can have a delay of up to a year before the first outbreak of soars.  This is why the best way to know if you are infected is to be tested.

Tests available:

There are various ways to test for the presence of these viruses. One is direct microscopic examination of scrapings from the lesions. This can show patterns of cells that can show viral infection. However, although this is the most rapid way of testing, it can not differentiate between the two viruses.

Other tests that can be performed on tissue from lesion or scrapings are viral culture, virus detection by direct fluorescence microscope stains and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) DNA specific test. All these vary in sensitivity and specificity and are indicated depending on the availability of samples and technology.

A more common way to test for HSV 1 and HSV 2 is by testing for the presence of either the virus itself or the antibody to the virus in the blood. Many of these tests are sensitive enough to differentiate between both viruses. 

Once again, is important to be sure to consult with your doctor for further information.

Microscope H&E stained tissue showing Herpes infection
Credit: NCI