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Sex Transm Infect 76:179-182 doi:10.1136/sti.76.3.179

First episodes of genital herpes in a Swedish STD population: a study of epidemiology and transmission by the use of herpes simplex virus (HSV) typing and specific serology

  1. G-B Löwhagen1,
  2. P Tunbäck1,
  3. K Andersson1,
  4. T Bergström1,
  5. G Johannisson1
  1. 1Departments of Dermatology and Venereology and Clinical Virology Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg and the STD Clinic, Borås Central Hospital, Sweden
  1. Dr Gun-Britt Löwhagen, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, 413 45 Göteborg, Sweden Gun-Britt.Lowhagen{at}sahlgrenska.se
  • Accepted 25 February 2000

Abstract

Objectives: To determine the proportion of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and HSV type 2 (HSV-2) in first episodes of genital herpes. To evaluate the use of HSV specific serology for classifying first episodes of genital herpes and for defining HSV serostatus in the patients' sexual partners.

Methods: 108 consecutive patients with first episodes of genital herpes seen at three STD clinics in Sweden from 1995 to 1999 were included in the study. HSV culture and typing were performed and serum was tested for antibodies against a type common HSV antigen and a type specific HSV-2 antigen, glycoprotein G2 (gG2). A structured interview including questions about sexual behaviour and sexual partners was taken. “Steady” partners were offered a blood test for HSV serology and counselling.

Results: Of 108 patients, 11 had a negative HSV culture. Of the 97 who were HSV culture positive, 44% (43/97) were typed as HSV-1 and 56% (54/97) as HSV-2. For 86 of these 97 patients, HSV serology from the initial visit was available. Of 52 primary infections, thus initially seronegative, 64% were HSV-1 infections and of 19 female primary infections 16 (84%) were HSV-1. In 17% the first episode of genital herpes corresponded to the first clinical recurrence of an infection acquired earlier in life. There was a significant correlation between having orogenital sex and being infected with HSV-1 and also a history of labial herpes in the partner. Only 20% of partners of patients with an HSV-2 infection had a history of genital herpes.

Conclusions: Almost half of first episodes of genital herpes are caused by HSV-1. In young women with a primary genital infection, HSV-1 is much more frequent than HSV-2. Besides HSV typing, we found specific HSV serology of value for classifying first episodes and for diagnosing a subclinical HSV-2 infection in partners. Anamnestic data supported the suggestion that the orogenital route of transmission was common in genital HSV-1 infections.

Footnotes