Diagnostics for herpes simplex virus: is PCR the new gold standard?

Mol Diagn Ther. 2006;10(1):17-28. doi: 10.1007/BF03256439.


Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most common, yet frequently overlooked, sexually transmitted infections. Since the type of HSV infection affects prognosis and subsequent counseling, type-specific testing to distinguish HSV-1 from HSV-2 is recommended. Although PCR has been the diagnostic standard for HSV infections of the central nervous system, until now viral culture has been the test of choice for HSV genital infection. However, HSV PCR, with its consistently and substantially higher rate of HSV detection, will likely replace viral culture as the gold standard for the diagnosis of genital herpes in people with active mucocutaneous lesions, regardless of anatomic location or viral type. Alternatively, type-specific serologic tests based on glycoprotein G should be the test of choice to establish the diagnosis of HSV infection when no active lesion is present. Given the difficulty in making the clinical diagnosis of HSV, the growing worldwide prevalence of genital herpes and the availability of effective antiviral therapy, there is an increased demand for rapid, accurate laboratory diagnosis of patients with HSV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Viral / analysis
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Herpes Simplex / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Simplex / virology*
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Serologic Tests
  • Simplexvirus / genetics*
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification*
  • Virus Cultivation


  • DNA, Viral