How Accurate is the Herpes Culture Test?

Dear Dr. Tom:

About a year and a half ago I went for an OB/Gyn visit and everything was normal. The nurse who performed the procedure was in a rush and I remember (or at least I’ve convinced myself that I remember) her pinching me. The next morning I awoke with one small blister on the outside of my labia. By that evening I went to the ER in a frantic state. The doctor performed a culture test and three days later it came back negative. The doctor told me that if the test came back negative and I did not have any other "outbreaks" to assume I did not have the virus. So, for a year and a half I did not have any symptoms. I might add that the blister did not hurt-there was no pain and none of the other common symptoms of herpes. Also I had not had unprotected sex in months. However about 2 months ago, I got a small bump type "thing" in about the same place. Once again, no pain just a sore-although I hate to call it a sore because it didn’t hurt. It went away in about 3-4 days. I am not sure if it was an outbreak or just irritation because I often get paranoid and touch that area to feel for any symptoms. I have been with the same partner for almost two years now and we have unprotected sex, even when I had the "sore" and he has not had any sort symptoms. MY QUESTION, I GUESS, IS: HOW ACCCURATE IS THE CULTURE TEST- I HAD IT DONE WITHIN 12 HOURS OF ITS APPEARANCE? AND I KNOW YOU CAN NOT GIVE A DIAGNOSIS, BUT IN YOUR OWN OPINION, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE THE CAUSE MAY BE.

Dr. Tom’s Response:

Dear Anonymous Who Inquired About The Culture Test:

Blisters on the labia are very suggestive of herpetic infection but not exclusively. The culture test is a laboratory procedure in which the actual viral agent is grown in cell culture using a sample taken from the suspected lesion. If the viral agent grows, it will produce evidence identifiable through a microscope. The possibility always exists that a false negative, a failure to grow the virus even though it may have been present, could result. I may be provincial in my regard for laboratory results, but it seems to me that 3 days is early to have reported a virus culture test as negative. My suggestion is to repeat the culture test at a time when you have a bump type thing. Your doctor should also consider the possibility of other STDs since you do not experience any pain or discomfort from the bumps.


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