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At-home herpes (HSV) tests are a convenient way to test for this common infection. Here, we examine the best herpes test kits, from their price to their support and privacy measures. Plus, we provide our editor’s hands-on review of the LetsGetChecked herpes test.
Herpes is an infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus spreads through contact with moist areas of the skin, such as the mouth and genitals.
HSV-1 causes oral herpes, which may develop after exposure to the virus in saliva or on skin surfaces. Some people develop the virus from nonsexual contact during childhood. Sometimes, HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes through oral sex.
Learn more about what herpes looks like.
MNT chooses at-home tests that meet the following criteria where possible:
- Laboratories: Where possible, MNT will choose companies that process test samples in
CLIA-certifiedlabs. This means they follow state and federal regulations.
- Budget: MNT chooses at-home tests that suit a range of budgets.
- Privacy: MNT includes companies that offer robust and transparent privacy measures, such as data protection and discreet packaging.
- Test type: MNT chooses tests that screen for a variety of STIs.
- Sample type: MNT chooses tests that offer a range of samples, such as blood, saliva, or urine.
- Test result speed: MNT selects companies that inform customers when they will receive their test results and whether they will receive them via email, app, or phone.
- Further support: MNT will indicate whether a company offers further support, such as a follow-up phone consultation with a doctor to discuss test results.
Medical News Today Editor Lois Zoppi received a free herpes test from LetsGetChecked to review. All opinions are their own.
The table below compares the six at-home herpes tests for cost, follow-up care, and more.
|finger-prick blood sample
|free session with a doctor
|a session with an STDCheck doctor
|finger-prick blood sample
|contact from a LetsGetChecked nurse
|blood test or urine sample
|phone session with a partner physician
People considering buying a home test may seek advice from a pharmacist on which test is likely to be best for them. The pharmacist may also be able to show them how to collect the sample at home to prevent inaccuracies.
People who are looking for an at-home herpes test should consider the following before making a purchase:
- Clear information: The company should offer all the information that a person needs for testing, including clear and complete instructions.
- Consultations: Some companies offer remote consultations for people who wish to discuss their sexual health concerns, particularly if they receive a positive result. This might be helpful for those who cannot easily attend doctor’s appointments in person or who are uncomfortable talking with their current doctor about their sexual health. However, people should try to visit a doctor in person if they test positive.
- Treatment plan: Online providers may suggest further testing or treatment depending on the individual’s results and concerns. People should always discuss these suggestions with a healthcare professional.
- Certified laboratories: Some companies work with laboratories with
Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)certification. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)claims that the CLIA regulations “establish quality standards for laboratory testing.” Medical News Today only features brands that use CLIA-certified labs to test samples.
At-home and in-person tests screen for the herpes simplex virus and will return either a positive, negative, or inconclusive result.
At-home tests require a person to collect the sample themselves. These samples may include urine, mouth or genital swabs, or a blood sample.
While at-home tests may be more convenient for those uncomfortable discussing their sexual history with others or those who cannot easily access healthcare, there are some risks. If a person does not collect the sample correctly, they may receive an inconclusive or incorrect test result.
Some at-home tests involve ordering a test online and visiting a lab so that a technician can collect the sample. This may be a good middle ground between true at-home tests and tests from a clinic for those who prefer not to discuss their sexual health with their doctor.
Samples taken by lab technicians and healthcare professionals are more likely to be valid. These professionals have had training and are more likely to take the sample correctly.
Another difference between at-home and in-person tests is that companies offering at-home testing may not offer follow-up advice. On the other hand, healthcare professionals from a clinic can provide people with resources, treatment, and prevention tips.
Learn more about how long it takes for herpes symptoms to show.
People who have active herpes lesions can undergo a swab test. However, if the lesion is small or has started healing, there might not be enough virus for the test to detect. Due to this, there is also a risk of a false-negative result.
Anyone who thinks they might have had exposure to HSV and wants to take a test for reassurance, despite a lack of symptoms, will need to test for antibodies in the blood instead. White blood cells produce antibodies when bacteria, viruses, or other unwanted substances. A positive antibody test may not indicate that a person has a current herpes infection. It also cannot tell people when they got herpes, if they have it.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, people should wait 12–16 weeks from the time of sexual contact before taking a test. The test checks whether or not the body has developed antibodies for HSV-1 or HSV-2, which may take some time to become detectable after exposure.
People who are sexually active or share needles with others may require regular testing.
Individuals with partners with herpes and who do not use barrier methods such as condoms each time they engage in sexual activity should also test for herpes regularly.
Some people may prefer to order their at-home tests from online providers since this does not require them to leave their homes.
A 2020 study notes that at-home kits may also benefit those who may not access routine healthcare.
There are two types of home tests: self-collection and laboratory-based.
After purchasing a test collection kit from an online provider, individuals receive all the tools they need to perform the test at home. They collect a sample by following the instructions in the kit and then return it to the company or its laboratory for analysis.
After purchasing the test from an online provider, the person receives a laboratory requisition form, which they present at a testing site. A healthcare professional takes the required sample, and the individual receives their result within a few days.
How accurate are at-home herpes tests?
At home herpes testing may not be as accurate as an in-person testing, but it may help you confirm if you have herpes. It’s good option for a patient who is unable to see an in-person physician or is hesitant to seek care from an in-person physician.
– Stacy A. Henigsman, DO.
HSV-1 or HSV-2 test results may be negative or positive. These results depend on the type of test people take.
A research review on the diagnosis of HSV-1 and HSV-2 concludes that using blood tests to diagnose genital herpes may be inappropriate because positive results may be due to chronic infection, whereas negative results may overlook recent infection.
According to the American Sexual Health Association, other viruses carried by the person in their blood may cross-react with the herpes virus, causing a false positive herpes result. These viruses include the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) which causes chickenpox or cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Other factors that may determine the correct outcome of a herpes test result
Four types of tests can confirm the presence of the HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. These are:
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
This is also known as a viral DNA test or HSV DNA test. The healthcare practitioner examines the sore sample to look for the DNA of HSV-1 and HSV-2 to determine which virus is causing the person’s infection.
These tests are
A healthcare practitioner collects a sample from the person’s skin sore and sends it to a laboratory to see if the virus grows. This type of test is useful early in an outbreak when the sore is open.
A positive result indicates that the person has an HSV infection. This may be an initial outbreak or a recurring one.
A negative result indicates that the test sample did not contain HSV. A negative result does not always mean that the person is free from the herpes virus. For example, a false negative may occur if the lesion is small or has started to heal.
A healthcare practitioner scrapes cells from the person’s sore to look for characteristics of herpes infection. A clinician examines the cells at the doctor’s office. There is no need to send the sample to a laboratory.
A positive result indicates the person has an infection. A negative result indicates that they do not have a herpes infection.
Herpes simplex antibody tests determine the presence of the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus. A clinician detects these antibodies in the person’s blood or sore sample.
A positive result means that the person has HSV antibodies from a current infection, or they have had exposure, an outbreak, or infection in the past. A negative result indicates that the person does not have the virus.
Before ordering a sample collection kit, people should consider the advantages and disadvantages of using at-home herpes tests. These include:
- only require online consultations with a doctor or nurse
- testing occurs at the same laboratories that the doctors use
- results are usually available within a few days
- confidentiality is guaranteed, with individuals receiving their tests in discreet packaging
- collecting a blood sample at home may be difficult
- there is a possibility of misinterpreting the test results
- consultations with a doctor may only be available if the individual receives a positive result
- there are few laboratory-based options
Anyone who has sexual contact with someone who has received a herpes diagnosis should contact a doctor as soon as possible.
People who have received a positive test result may also wish to consider seeking medical advice.
Currently, herpes is not curable, but doctors can prescribe medications to reduce the frequency and severity of the symptoms. This may help lower the chance of the infection spreading to other individuals.
Below are some common questions about at-home herpes tests.
Yes, it is possible to test for herpes at home. LetsGetChecked, STDCheck, and MyLAB Box all sell at-home herpes tests online. While at-home herpes tests are easy to complete and convenient to use, there is a risk of user error if a person is not used to taking herpes tests themselves.
At-home herpes home test kits are accurate so long as a person follows the test instructions. Tests may return an inaccurate or inconclusive result if a person does not take their sample correctly.
The CDC recommends that only people who have symptoms of herpes undergo testing. Possible symptoms include blisters around the anus, genitals, or mouth that burst and leave painful sores. The CDC also recommends testing if a person experiences what could be a herpes outbreak.
However, a person should always contact a doctor to help them interpret the results and receive further testing if necessary.
Many people who have herpes do not have any symptoms at all. Additionally, if a person has herpes symptoms, they can still be mistaken for something else. For example, herpes sores may look like pimples or ingrown hairs. Since herpes sores can look like blisters, they can also be mistaken for skin condition symptoms, such as dermatitis.
Learn more about what herpes sores look like.
At-home herpes tests may be the preferred option for people who feel uncomfortable discussing their sexual health with a doctor and those who cannot visit a healthcare facility.
Many companies sell at-home tests. Before purchasing a test, an individual may wish to compare the costs, how long it takes the companies to issue the results, and their instructions for collecting the sample.
Some people may have difficulty collecting samples at home and interpreting the test results. Some companies may only offer consultations to individuals who receive a positive test.
There are different types of herpes tests a person may wish to take. People should consider that any test has room for error, and those who receive a positive herpes test result should contact a doctor to discuss treatment options or a follow-up test.