Do I have herpes?
The only way to find out what is causing a genital problem is to go to a clinic or doctor. Getting diagnosed with genital herpes can only happen when you have symptoms. (For example, spot, blister, little cut, ulcer, etc.) Go to a sexual health clinic or department of genitourinary medicine (GUM clinic). There may be one at your local hospital. Often, you won’t need to make an appointment, but if you do, tell them you think it is genital herpes because it can only be diagnosed while you have symptoms. Ring your nearest hospital for the address and clinic times – or search the list of clinics you can find here. It is only possible to diagnose genital herpes when symptoms are present, so don’t delay.
A positive result from the swab will confirm the diagnosis.
Do not apply creams to the area before attending the clinic as the doctors may need to take a swab from a lesion and the products might interfere.
A routine sexual health check-up does not include any test for herpes simplex, unless there are signs on the skin. If you don’t have symptoms they cannot check for herpes simplex.
Blood tests are not used to diagnose genital herpes. You may see blood tests for herpes advertised but these cannot be used to diagnose genital herpes. They check for antibodies but this does not identify the part of the body that might be affected – only a swab of a sore can do that. An asymptomatic facial cold sore infection will also cause the immune system to make antibodies. Antibody tests are not very reliable: one in three negative test results may be wrong; one in ten positive results may be incorrect.
Urine tests should not be used to diagnose genital herpes. Beware, these may be offered inappropriately by private testing services.
Your symptoms may not be caused by genital herpes. There are more than 24 other conditions that could be causing them. A research study found that 3% of genital ‘herpetic ulcers’ were in fact caused by herpes zoster virus, also known as shingles.
You cannot diagnose yourself. Herpes photos on other websites are usually chosen to show really bad outbreaks. Yours could be much milder. There are other conditions that cause blisters or sores that look just like genital herpes. Only a swab test will confirm it is genital herpes.
Do I have to see my GP before I can go to a clinic?
No, you can arrange this yourself.
Will details of my diagnosis be sent to my GP?
No. Your visit to the clinic is confidential. You don’t even have to use your real name. The clinic may ask for your doctor’s details but this is simply to allow internal charging within the NHS.
If you took a letter with you from your GP, the clinic will wish to write back to the GP with your test results but you can tell the clinic not to do this.
More questions and answers
- About herpes simplex virus
- Passing on/transmitting herpes
- Herpes recurrences explained
- Treating genital herpes
- Genital herpes, pregnancy and childbirth
- Other herpes questions