Herpes Simplex Infections (Cold Sores) - Diagnosis

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How is oral herpes diagnosed?

The diagnosis of herpes (cold sores) is usually based solely on the appearance of the lesions. Less commonly, viral culture or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are used to help in the diagnosis of herpes infection.

Swabbing the blister in an attempt to culture the virus in the lab is only productive in the first 48 hours and before the blister has crusted over. If lesions resolve, then cultures are of no help, because there's nothing to culture. Culture results take a minimum of three to five days.

PCR testing detects herpes DNA, but it is not as readily available as culture. PCR is done on clinical specimens obtained from swabs of active lesions as described above.

Blood tests are often irrelevant, since finding antibodies to herpes just means that the body has been exposed to this virus at some point in the past. It does not determine if the current lesion is due to herpes.

If the diagnosis is in doubt, the best approach is to encourage the person to see a doctor at the first sign of a sore. That will allow the clinician to see active lesions that can be tested by culture or PCR.

Return to Cold Sores (Nongenital Herpes Simplex Infections)

See what others are saying

Comment from: macy, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: July 08

I have these sores for about 10 years now but now its reocurring faster than before its occurs wants I have my periods or before that I still don't know what happen I did go to the clinic but they didn't go away.

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