What Should I Do If I Think I Might Have Herpes?

on the wings of a snow white dove . cc by 2.0

Take a deep breath. Or two. Or as many as you need.
Imagine that an enormous number of people all over the world are wrapping you in a great big enveloping hug. You are not alone. We’re right here, and we have large shoulders and big ears. We’re here to tell you that, even if it’s hard to believe right now, everything will be all right.

Find out for sure.
You’ll want to get tested immediately. If you have a gynecologist or urologist, that doctor will be the best one to see. If you know a dermatologist or infectious disease specialist, you might choose to see that doctor instead. If you don’t have insurance, you might visit a free clinic, Planned Parenthood, or your hospital’s Emergency Room.

If you have the symptoms of a herpes outbreak—white blisters or lesions on your mouth or sexual organs that cause discomfort or pain—get to a doctor within 48 hours of noticing these symptoms. The doctor will swab the blisters in order to test for HSV.

If you don’t have the symptoms of an outbreak, explain to your doctor why you think you might have been exposed, and ask for an IgG type-specific blood test. Both these tests will take a few days to generate results.

If your test results come back negative, repeat the tests.
Even if you did contract herpes, your tests might still come back negative.

A swab test can result in a false negative if too much time—more than 48 hours—passed between the beginning of the outbreak and the time the swab was taken. You will want to have another swab taken when you have a fresh outbreak, and before 48 hours have passed.

An reliable blood test can result in a false negative if not enough antibodies have generated in your bloodstream to be detected. You will want to have another blood test done after 4 months—about 16 weeks—have passed. If at that point you have a positive test result, your first outbreak was probably a primary infection. More than likely, you contracted the virus from the person you were intimate with a few days before you noticed symptoms.

If your test results are positive, take another deep breath.
Herpes is extremely common. More than half of Americans have oral herpes, and one in five to six Americans aged 18-49 have genital herpes. Up to 90% of these folks don’t realize they have the virus, but in a room of 100 people, you can be pretty sure about three-quarters of them have HSV.

If your swab test comes back positive, you almost certainly have herpes. It’s extremely rare for a false positive to occur from a swab. If your blood test comes back positive the first time it’s done, there’s a good chance you have had the virus for more than four months, maybe even longer.

Read about the virus.
Find out as much as you can about herpes. There are a lot of informational sites on the internet, but be cautious. Not all of these are reliable. However, there are a number of medical and health organizations with websites where you can read accurate basic information. You can find my recommended websites by clicking Basic Info in the menu above.

Contact the herpes community.
As soon as you feel ready, the very best thing you can do is to connect with others who have herpes. I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial interaction with folks who’ve experienced the emotional and physical effects that you’re beginning to experience will be to you, as you progress.

You can begin by talking to other H folks on phone support hotlines or in online support forums. When you feel ready, you might then seek out in-person conversations at live local H support meetings. At some point you might begin to feel comfortable enough to attend social events sponsored by local social H groups. You can find a regularly updated list of these sources of interaction by clicking Social/Support.

One day, you might decide it’s finally time to attend one of several annual national H events held around the country, which are attended by dozens or even hundreds of people from all walks of life. These events often serve to show or remind us how large the HSV community is, and that none of us is ever truly alone.

I hope I’m lucky enough to meet you in person one day. Until then, I’m sending many virtual hugs your way.

Cat >”<

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