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Sex Transm Infect 79:280-285 doi:10.1136/sti.79.4.280
  • Original articles

Psychosocial impact of serological diagnosis of herpes simplex virus type 2: a qualitative assessment

  1. A Wald5
  1. 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA
  2. 2University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA
  3. 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA, USA
  4. 4STD Program, Seattle-King County Public Health Department, Seattle, WA, USA
  5. 5Department of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Medicine, School of Medicine and School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
    Jennifer L Melville, MD, University of Washington School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Box 356460, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195-6460, USA;
    jmelvi{at}u.washington.edu
  • Accepted 6 February 2003

Abstract

Objectives: To assess the emotional and psychosocial responses to a serological diagnosis of HSV-2 infection in individuals without previous history of genital herpes.

Methods: 24 individuals who had a positive HSV-2 serology by western blot and no clinical history of disease were recruited from four clinics (sexually transmitted disease, maternal and infant care, family medicine, and virology research) over a 10 month period. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted to elicit an individual’s responses to the HSV-2 diagnosis.

Results: Three categories of themes were identified from the interviews. Short term emotional responses included surprise, denial, confusion, distress, sadness, disappointment, and relief to know. Short term psychosocial responses included fear of telling sex partners, anger at the source partner, guilt about acquiring or transmitting, and concern about transmitting to a child. Perceived ongoing responses included fear of telling future partners, concern about transmitting to a sex partner, feeling sexually undesirable, feeling socially stigmatised, feeling like “damaged goods,” sex avoidance due to social responsibility, fear of transmitting to a newborn, and relationship concerns relating to the diagnosis.

Conclusions: Individuals exhibit strong emotional and psychosocial responses to a serological diagnosis of HSV-2 infection. Many of the negative responses may be time limited and influenced by factors that are potentially amenable to counselling.