The reliability of serological tests for the diagnosis of genital herpes: a critique

Pathology. 1993 Apr;25(2):175-9. doi: 10.3109/00313029309084794.


The reliability and limitations of the currently used routine tests for herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) antibody in Australia are reviewed. Six case reports illustrate the clinical dangers of overinterpretation of the currently available kits and the need for a readily available specific HSV-2 antibody test. In Sydney, HSV-2 causes approximately 85% of primary genital herpes and > 95% of recurrent genital herpes. Due to the extensive serological cross-reactivity between HSV-1 and HSV-2, currently available "type specific" commercial assays cannot reliably distinguish between the 2. Isolation of herpes simplex virus (HSV) or detection of HSV antigen in vesicle fluid is the preferred diagnostic test but may be overlooked or patients may have no visible lesions. The only accurate techniques for detecting HSV-2 specific antibody are the Western blot assay and an enzymatic immunoassay using glycoprotein G (gG-2), a component of the HSV-2 envelope. These tests, which still are restricted to research laboratories can be used to accurately identify people with previous exposure to HSV-2 (IgG) or to diagnose primary infection where virus isolation has not been performed or is impossible. Current commercially available antibody tests may have extensive cross-reactivity.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blotting, Western
  • Diseases in Twins
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Simplexvirus / isolation & purification*


  • Reagent Kits, Diagnostic