How Are Cold Sores Diagnosed?

Cold sores are usually quite easy to diagnose. There are a number diagnostic tests available, of which the most common is the Tzanck smear. This test can be done in the physician’s office and the results are available in minutes.

The test involves scraping material from the ulcer, applying the specimen to a glass slide and staining it. Certain cellular changes will indicate a herpes virus infection. This test is fast and convenient, but it is not always reliable.

A more reliable test is one in which the virus is grown in cell culture, but this procedure takes at least two days. Newer tests are available, such as fluorescent-labeled antibodies directed against the virus particles. This is called the DFA test.

This test has the advantage of being quick, easy and reliable.

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