Antibodies to the herpes simplex viruses-1 and -2 (HSV-1 and -2) indicate that an individual's immune system has encountered and formed a response to these viruses as a result of infection, whether or not symptoms ever develop.
When a person contracts herpes simplex viruses-1 or -2 (or other viral or bacterial infections), the immune system develops antibodies to help fight off the infection.
Herpes infections are likely to have recurrent outbreaks after a person first becomes infected. The development of antibodies to HSV-1 or -2 means that future outbreaks will not be as severe as the initial outbreaks.
Although a person who has herpes antibodies has been exposed to a herpes simplex virus, this does not necessarily indicate that that individual has ever had herpes symptoms.
Because both oral and genital herpes can be spread even in the absence of symptoms, a person who has antibodies to a herpes simplex virus may still spread infection to other people.
A blood test is done to detect the presence of herpes antibodies. About 70 percent of adults are positive for HSV-1 antibodies, and about 20 percent of adults are positive for HSV-2 antibodies.