Herpes viral culture of lesion

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Herpes viral culture of a lesion is a laboratory test to check if a skin sore is infected with the herpes simplex virus.

Alternative Names

Culture - herpes simplex virus; Herpes simplex virus culture

How the Test is Performed

The health care provider collects the sample from a skin sore (lesion). The sample is sent to a lab. There, it is placed in a special dish (culture). It is then watched to see if the herpes simplex virus (HSV) or substances related to the virus grow. Special tests may also be done to determine whether it is HSV type 1 or 2.

How to Prepare for the Test

The sample must be collected during the acute phase of infection. This is the worst part of an outbreak. It is also when the skin lesions are at their worst.

How the Test will Feel

When the sample is collected, you may feel an uncomfortable scraping or sticky sensation. Sometimes a sample from the throat or eyes is needed. This involves rubbing a sterile swab against the eye or in the throat.

Why the Test is Performed

The test is done to confirm herpes simplex infection. The herpes virus causes

. It can also cause of the mouth and lips.

The diagnosis is often made by physical examination (the provider looking at the sores). The cultures and other tests are used to confirm the diagnosis.

This test is most likely accurate when a person is newly infected, that is, during the first outbreak.

Normal Results

A normal (negative) result means that the herpes simplex virus did not grow in the laboratory dish and the skin sample used in the test did not contain any herpes virus.

Be aware that a normal (negative) culture does not always mean that you do not have a herpes infection or have not had one in the past.

What Abnormal Results Mean

An abnormal (positive) result may mean that you have an active infection with herpes simplex virus. Herpes infections include herpes genitalis, which is genital herpes, or cold sores on the lips or in the mouth.

If the culture is positive for herpes, you may have recently become infected. You may have become infected in the past and are currently having an outbreak.


Risks include slight bleeding or infection in the area where the skin sample was removed.


Costello M, Sabatini LM, Yungbluth M. Viral infections. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 55.

Marks JG, Miller JJ. Dermatologic therapy and procedures. In: Marks JG, Miller JJ, eds. Lookingbill and Marks' Principles of Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 4.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 9/26/2015
  • Daniel N. Sacks MD, FACOG, obstetrics & gynecology in private practice, West Palm Beach, FL. Review Provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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