Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)-IgM Test

HSV-IgM test

What is the HSV IgM test?

The herpes simplex virus, termed as HSV causes an infection called herpes. The virus is categorized into two types, the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). While HSV-1 is caused by physical contact and causes cold sores in the mouth area, the HSV-2 type is transmitted sexually and leads to genital herpes.

The virus is highly contagious and causes painful blisters and ulcers at the site of infection. There is no cure for herpes and it can only be controlled by medications and certain home remedies. The HSV IgM test is a blood test that is used to detect the presence of the virus in the system. While the test does not identify the actual virus, it points out certain proteins that are produced by the body in response to the virus.

What are immunoglobulins?

The immunoglobulins play an important role in the body’s immune system and they are generated by the plasma cells in response to external invasion from bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. Different types of immunoglobulins are produced by the body to fight different types of infections.

In some cases, the system may also produce an excess of such proteins due to certain specific conditions. The test is highly accurate and a positive result makes sure that you have the virus. At the same time, it can give false-negative results in certain conditions like recurrences. The IgM class antibody is produced by the body a few days after an initial HSV infection and can be detected in the blood for several weeks.

In the second stage, the body also produces the HSV IgG antibody and in many cases, both the tests are done to get an accurate result.

How does herpes spread?

The herpes virus results in recurrences after the first infection. But over time, the remission periods get longer and the occurrences get less severe. The virus is usually present on the skin and can be transmitted through the moist linings of the skin around the mouth, anus, and genitals.

However, the infection does not spread by touching an object, washbasin, or a towel that has been touched by an infected person.  Sharing a lip balm or kissing can be a cause for the transmission of the virus. A mother with genital herpes can pass it to the child if she has sores during childbirth. The infection can affect anyone irrespective of age or sex and just depends on the level of exposure. Other factors that increase the chances of infection are mentioned below.

– Multiple sex partners
– Sexual intercourse at a younger age
– Presence of other sexually transmitted infections
– Having a weak immune system

Why do I need to undergo an HSV IgM test?

The following conditions are some of the most common reasons for the test.

– To figure out the exact reason behind the formation of painful blisters or sores around the lips or in the genital area.

– To check if the sexual partner of a person with genital herpes is also infected by the same.

– To check for neonatal herpes in new-borns, whose mothers are infected with genital herpes.

The doctor will check the physical symptoms of the infection and order for the test. Some of the common symptoms are mentioned below.

– The occurrence of blistering sores in the mouth or on the genitals

– Any pain during urination.

– An itching or burning sensation around the affected area.

These symptoms can be accompanied by other general symptoms like fever, swollen lymph nodes,   headaches, tiredness and lack of appetite.

In some cases, HSV can also affect the eyes and can cause symptoms like eye pain, discharge, and a gritty feeling in the eye. A few people have an increased risk of infection from the virus as mentioned below.

– People with recurrent genital sores or atypical symptoms who have negative results on HSV culture.

– People who have a sex partner who has been diagnosed with genital herpes.

– People who have been tested positive for other sexually transmitted diseases.

– Individuals diagnosed with an HIV infection.

How is an HSV IgM test performed?

The HSV1 and HSV2 IgM blood tests within 7-10 days after the initial stage of infection after which the levels decline. The blood test is simple and conducted within a few minutes. In this process, a needle is inserted into a vein to draw the required volume of blood and the process is termed as venipuncture. The process involves the following steps.

– An elastic band is tied in the upper arm to make the veins swell with blood, thus making the collection process easier. The collection site is generally around the elbow region and the technician disinfects the area where the needle will be inserted with an antiseptic swab.

– A needle is inserted into the vein and 8 to 10 milliliter of blood is drawn through a syringe in an attached tube. The sample is then transferred into a sealed test tube. A slight prick or stinging sensation is felt when the needle is inserted in the vein.

– The band is untied and the needle is withdrawn slowly. The site is kept under pressure to prevent any blood loss and in finally bandaged.
The blood sample is sent to the laboratory for necessary testing. Since the size of the veins can differ from one person to the other, multiple punctures may be needed for some patients before the right vein is found.

– The blood draw may cause soreness, swelling and bruising at the injection site which usually goes away within a few days. In some rare cases, light-headedness, dizziness, and infection in the collection point are also possible. Any infections are to be treated as per the doctor’s advice.

What is the price for an HSV IgM test? 

The cost of the test ranges between Rs 1200 to Rs 2000 depending on the place and facilities provided in the testing center.

When will I get the test results?

The test results are generally delivered within 24 to 72 hours depending on the laboratory.

What is the normal range for an HSV IgM test?

The test does not have a standard range of values. It is marked by a positive or negative result that marks the presence or absence of the virus. In some cases, the result can be equivocal, which means that the test was unable to conclude whether or not there was an IgM antibody present.

What do the results mean?

A negative HSV antibody result means that it is unlikely that the patient has been infected by HSV. In some situations, it can also be due to the fact that the body has not had time to begin producing the HSV related antibodies. The doctor can order a retest depending on the symptoms and patient history. A positive test result indicates an active or recent infection and the doctor will plan treatment for the condition. Further tests can also be ordered for a confirmation of the result. As mentioned earlier, there is no permanent cure for herpes and the outbreak is controlled through medications. The doctor may also advise certain precautions to avoid the spread of the disease.

Do I need to fast for the HSV IgM test?

The blood test does not need any food restrictions or any other special preparations.

What else do I need to know before I appear for an HSV IgM test?

The following points can be noted to understand the finer aspects of the test and the viral infection.

– The IgM tests cannot be used to determine how long the infection has been prevalent in the body or how the patient got infected.

– The IgM blood test cannot accurately distinguish between HSV-1 and HSV-2 antibodies and in many cases can provide a false-positive result for HSV-2 virus. In addition, the test can also connect with other viruses like the varicella-zoster virus or cytomegalovirus and provide misleading results.

– Many patients experience regular herpes outbreaks while in some the virus can remain dormant. It has been noted that the virus can be triggered by certain factors like stress.

– Issues related to menstrual periods, fever or infections and excessive sun exposure or sunburn.

– The virus generally does not create any additional complications in a healthy person. The infections can get severe in the case of new-borns who are infected during birth and in individuals with weakened immune systems.

– It has been noted that herpes can make patients more vulnerable to HIV infections and up to 90% of HIV-infected individuals are found to be co-infected with HSV-2 virus.

– This is a very common infection around the world and as per statistics, the infections are most common in Africa and least prevalent in the USA.

Can pregnant women undergo an HSV IgM test?

Pregnant women can undergo the test without any restrictions.

Is the HSV IgM test possible for new-born babies?

The test is possible for new-born babies as advised by the doctor.

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Test Your Knowledge

Welcome to your Sexual Health

What is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection in the US?
You can't get STI from oral sex.
What is the best lubricant to be used with latex condoms?
What do birth control implants help with?
Which bodily fluids can transmit HIV?
Cold sores and genital herpes can be caused by the same virus.
When is the best time to perform a breast self-exam (BSE)?
What is a pap smear used to detect?
Chlamydia, if untreated, can lead to infertility in women.
What is a window period in HIV detection?

Take the full quiz