Is there a test for herpes when one is asymptomatic?

Dear Dr. Amy:

I knew when I married my (soon to be ex) husband that he had genital herpes, and as far as I know, I have managed not to contract it from him, although we have often had unprotected sex. 

What concerns me is that I have heard women can have the disease without ever knowing it. Since we are getting divorced, the question has come up for me about what I will do when I’m in another intimate relationship.

Is there any way to test for herpes when one is asymptomatic? 

If not, should I operate on the assumption that if I’ve never had symptoms, I was lucky enough not to catch it? Or will I have to tell every partner I ever have in the future that I MAY have been exposed to the virus, just in case they don’t want to take any chances with me?

I’ve always put thoughts of the possibility that I could have it and not know it out of my mind, but now that we’re divorcing, the issue is far more pressing for me.

Dr. Amy’s Response:

One way of testing for herpes in through a sample of an open, active lesion obtained by swabbing the infected area. You do not have active symptoms but question if you are a carrier because you’ve had sexual contact with a partner who has herpes. You are correct that people can be carriers without showing symptoms. How often are people surprised that they have contracted herpes from “a clean looking person”.

There is a blood test called Western Blot that can distinguish if you have the antibodies for HSV-1, HSV-2, or both. This test is not readily available and you may need to contact a university (University of Washington), research hospital, or call 888-ADVICE8 for more information.

Good luck with your new love relationships. Remember that herpes is one of many STDs out there. Be safe, use protection.


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