Herpes simplex virus culture

Alternative names
Culture - herpes simplex virus; Herpes viral culture of lesion

Herpes viral culture of a lesion is a test to confirm herpes simplex virus present in a skin lesion.

How the test is performed

A specimen from a skin lesion (often a genital lesion) is collected during the acute stage of symptomatic infection and placed in a special transport medium. The specimen may be placed in cell cultures to replicate for identification, or it may be identified by monoclonal antibodies that detect early antigens of herpes simplex virus.

Serotyping of the virus (type 1 or 2) may also be done. Results are available within 16 hours to 7 days of receipt of the specimen, depending on the culture method used.

How to prepare for the test
The specimen must be collected during an acute infection.

Infants and children:
The preparation you can provide for this test depends on your child’s age, previous experiences, and level of trust. For general information regarding how you can prepare your child, see the following topics:

How the test will feel
The specimen is collected by scraping the suspected skin lesion or aspirating fluid from the lesion. This can cause a scraping or sticking sensation. Sometimes a specimen from the throat or eyes is obtained, usually by rubbing a sterile swab against the tissues.

Why the test is performed
The test is performed to confirm herpes simplex infection. The diagnosis is often made by clinical examination rather than diagnostic testing.

Normal Values
No growth is normal.

What abnormal results mean
Abnormal results may indicate active infection with herpes simplex virus or asymptomatic viral shedding.

Herpes genitalis (genital herpes simplex) is an additional condition under which the test may be performed.

What the risks are
The risks are slight bleeding or infection at the skin lesion site.

Special considerations
Viral culture for herpes is a poor test and is often falsely negative (but extremely rarely falsely positive). The absence of a positive culture does not confirm that the patient does not have herpes.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by Potos A. Aagen, M.D.

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