Healthcare provider and patient discussing how to test for herpes

How to test for herpes: what you should know

Medically reviewed by William Ross Perlman, PhD, CMPP on December 14, 2019. Written by Kathryn Wall. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Understanding Herpes and Taking Control of Your Sexual Health

There are many different types of STDs (or STIs) that can affect men and women, and being informed about sexually transmitted infections is important for caring for your health. If you think you’ve possibly been exposed to herpes or are experiencing symptoms you think could be related, don’t fret. You’re not alone, and we’re here to help. The first place to start is knowing your STI status.

You’re most likely wondering what herpes is and how to test for it. There are two types of herpes [1]: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

HSV-1 causes common cold sores and chancres at or around the mouth, and it’s also commonly known as oral herpes. HSV-2 occurs more often at or near the genitals and is more commonly referred to as genital herpes. Like gonorrhea and chlamydia and other infections, genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can be spread through close personal contact, such as kissing or sexual intercourse.

So if you’re wondering, “How do you test for herpes?”, you can take a genital herpes test to help determine whether you’re infected.

Test for 6 other common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, with Everlywell STD testing for women or STD testing for men—which allows you to test for STIs from the privacy of your own home.

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Signs and symptoms of herpes

Oral herpes is an infection in the mouth, caused by HSV-1 [2]. Symptoms often include cold sores or fever blisters, but you can have oral herpes without any symptoms. (Related: STDs in women)

The herpes simplex virus can be dormant until an active outbreak occurs. The initial infection typically has the worst symptoms, ranging from flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes to headaches. Sores may occur in and around the lips and mouth. Recurring infections are usually milder, and may include redness, itching, or swelling. Painful, fluid-filled blisters can occur and are highly contagious. These blisters often turn into sores (or lesions), which will then scab over and typically heal in a few days.

Symptoms of genital herpes range from none to more severe manifestations [1]. The majority of genital HSV infections are mild, with little to no symptoms following the initial outbreak. For people who do experience symptoms, the usual course begins with genital inflammation, where the skin may itch or burn. Blister-like sores may appear. The sores may open, scab over, and heal.

Other indirect symptoms that can occur during an active herpes virus infection include fever, headaches, muscle aches, and a burning sensation during urination. (Related: How do you know if you have an STD?)

Genital herpes virus infections are highly contagious and spread through sexual contact. The first outbreak of herpes can last several weeks and usually affects the genital area. The virus then typically becomes inactive, but outbreaks may continue in the future. Fortunately, suppressive therapy—through the prescription of antiviral medication—is available for those who suffer from chronic, recurrent outbreaks.

If you think you may have a herpes infection, testing could be a convenient option for you. If you’re wondering how to get tested for herpes, there’s good news: testing for HSV-2 is easy.

How to test for herpes

If you suspect you have herpes, the first thing you should do is contact your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can examine your blisters or sores to check for herpes. If you do have an HSV infection, your healthcare provider may recommend a treatment plan for you.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a genital herpes test if you have symptoms of herpes or a sexual partner who has genital herpes [3]. Note that some people have asymptomatic herpes and don’t show symptoms, but the CDC does not recommend asymptomatic screening for herpes [3].

If you would like an easy at-home option to test for 6 other common STIs, try the Everlywell home STD Test for women or the STD Test for men which checks for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis. Once your sample is received and analyzed at the lab, the test results are sent to you quickly and discreetly via our secure, online platform. Everlywell also offers convenience when it comes to treatment options, as you can consult with a provider to explore your options in getting oral herpes medication online.

Common questions

When To Get Tested for Herpes?

If you suspect you might have been exposed to herpes or if you're experiencing symptoms such as blisters, sores, itching, or a burning sensation around the mouth or genital area, it's important to consider getting tested. However, it's crucial to keep in mind the herpes incubation period, which typically ranges from 2 to 12 days. This means that if you don't experience symptoms immediately after potential exposure, waiting until at least 12 days have passed can provide a more accurate testing window.

How do healthcare providers test for herpes?

Healthcare providers will diagnose herpes by examining the location and severity of any active blisters or sores around the mouth or genital area. They may take a tissue sample of the sores to send to a laboratory for examination. A blood sample will be needed if an antibody test is used to check whether you have been infected with the herpes virus.

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What Tests Do They Use for Herpes?

Healthcare providers primarily rely on three types of tests for diagnosing herpes:

  • Clinical examination of sores: This involves visually assessing the appearance and location of blisters or sores on the mouth or genitals.
  • Swab test: A sample is taken from the surface of a sore and sent to a lab for testing.
  • Antibody testing: A blood sample is analyzed to detect the presence of herpes-specific antibodies, providing a more definitive diagnosis.

How Long Does It Take To Get Herpes Test Results?

The time for receiving test results can vary based on the specific testing method and the laboratory's processing time. Generally, results are provided within a few days to a week.

How to diagnose herpes?

Genital herpes is typically diagnosed through examination by a medical professional and a blood test. If you suspect you have genital herpes (which is primarily caused by HSV-2), you can take an antibody test.

How Can I Test for Multiple STIs at Home?

To test for 6 other common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis C, HIV, syphilis, and trichomoniasis, try the Everlywell home STD Test for women or the STD Test for men. After you collect your sample at home, it is received and analyzed at the lab, and the test results are sent to you quickly and discreetly via our secure, online platform.

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Do I have herpes and not know it?

How often should you get tested for STDs?


  1. Herpes Simplex. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed December 14, 2019.
  2. Oral Herpes. Johns Hopkins Medicine. URL. Accessed December 14, 2019.
  3. Genital Herpes Screening FAQ. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed December 14, 2019.
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