Herpes Viral Culture Test

A herpes viral culture test (aka herpes culture) is the most common and the best test for doctors to diagnose a person believed to have the herpes simplex virus.  Although extremely common and considered to be the most accurate test for a positive result, is not always extremely accurate and sometimes results in a false negative.

A doctor will perform a viral culture test for herpes by testing the cells and fluids of a fresh sore.  A large cotton or synthetic swab that resembles a large Q-Tip, is rubbed vigorously on the sore(s) and then it’s placed in a culture tube where it is then most often sent to a lab for testing.

The lab will observe the swab culture for 7-14 days to see if it grows into the herpes virus.  If the herpes virus is detected it is considered to be a positive or abnormal herpes test result and confirmed that you have HSV.  On the other hand, if HSV is not detected the lab will return a negative or also known as a normal herpes test result.

The herpes viral culture test is considered the best and cheapest test available to detect a “positive” result.  And it has the statistics to back up this claim with nearly a 99% accuracy rate. 

However, the accuracy rate for negative results is not so impressive.  There has been at least one study that found that as many as 76% of all negative results were later found to be positives though further testing methods.

In short, a negative herpes viral culture result does not always mean that a patient does not have herpes.  It simply means that there was not enough of the virus present in the sample to provide a definite positive.  Or there was no HSV cells collected on the sample.

In the early years of herpes testing…before accurate blood tests were discovered, the herpes culture was the gold standard that medical professionals trusted.  It doesn’t take a scientist to know that at the time all the false positives provided at lot of people with a false sense of security and a continued spread of the herpes virus from people who thought they were negative.

Can you imagine being told that you were negative but later found out to be positive?

So Why Are There So Many False Negative Herpes Viral Culture Test Results?

There are a few reasons but it primarily boils down to two and both for the same reason.  The first reason is that you were tested too late during an outbreak.  To have a solid and accurate herpes viral culture test result the sample must be taken during the first couple of days after blisters first appear.  This is when the virus is most active and plentiful on the surface of the skin.  As the days pass the virus will either be absorbed into your clothing, die off or subside back into the body.  Therefore not leaving enough of the virus cells to collect onto the swab.

The second reason is that the herpes viral culture test is the most accurate during your initial outbreak when there are more herpes blisters present.  Again, similar to the first reason, there are more sores available to gather samples.  If you wait until you have another outbreak, there may not be enough sores to gather enough cells to test.

One More Thing to Consider When Preparing to Have a Culture Test for Herpes...

Another thing to consider is that in order to collect enough cells and fluids the health care provider will have to rub the suspected sore vigorously because the virus is only found in the skin cells of the sores.  This can result in more pain and discomfort so you may want to take a few over-the-counter pain killers before going to your doctor.

Additionally, you might want to take a little time and explore some of our home remedies for herpes to provide you with pain relief after the test is completed.

Herpes Viral Culture Test Conclusion

In summary, if you have a herpes viral culture test and you receive a positive or abnormal herpes test result then it's safe to say that you have genital herpes.

However, if you receive a negative or normal herpes test result, the standard school of thought is to follow it up with a herpes blood test in about 3-4 months.


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Learn More About Herpes Tests

Genital Herpes Diagnosis – Severe Complication Can Result When A Diagnosis Is Wrong

The Physical Exam for Genital Herpes – What Can You Expect?

Are You Considering A Herpes Test? – Learn What Options Are Available and What You Should Expect

Click here to read Herpes Tests Frequently Asked Questions

Read the most common Reasons For Getting A Herpes Blood Test

What is a herpes blood test and is one right for you?


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