There are few things that alarm patients more that hearing that they have antibodies to herpes in their blood. What they hear is “I have herpes” even though this isn’t always the case. Many times, tests for herpes antibodies are included in STD panels and in routine blood work for newly pregnant woman. These tests look for evidence of prior exposure to either the Herpes I or Herpes II virus. A positive result can occur if a person has ever been exposed to these viruses. Exposure could happen by coming into contact with the virus through oral or genital contact, even by a kiss from someone with a cold sore.
While Herpes I is usually oral and Herpes II usually genital- either can be found in the other location. Someone who has either herpes virus can be contagious without even having a lesion and pass along the virus unknowingly. Alternatively, a person can have be exposed to the virus and develop antibodies without ever having an outbreak. Just because the antibodies are in the bloodstream does not mean that an outbreak will ever occur. These antibodies can lay dormant for years or even decades. Most of the time, if one partner in an ongoing relationship has antibodies to Herpes, the other person does too. This can be verified with blood work.
In conclusion, the presence of Herpes antibodies on a blood test does not mean that an outbreak of Herpes will ever occur. However, in times of physical or emotional stress, or when the immune system is suppressed (like during pregnancy), there is a higher risk of an outbreak. For this reason, we use preventative antiviral medicines to prevent Herpes outbreaks at the end of pregnancy. More information regarding the Herpes viruses and their diagnosis and treatment can be found at my Mesa Ob/gyn office.
Tamar Gottfried is a Board Certified Obstetrician/ gynecologist practicing general Ob/gyn in Mesa Arizona and affiliated with Banner Desert and Banner Gateway Medical Centers. She can be contacted at 480-545-0059. This is a general interest article only and is not intended to be medical advice. See a medical professional before making medical decisions