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Rising incidence and prevalence of herpes simplex type 2 infection in a cohort of 26 year old New Zealanders
  1. Jason E Eberhart-Phillips1,
  2. Nigel P Dickson1,
  3. Charlotte Paul1,
  4. G Peter Herbison1,
  5. Janette Taylor2,
  6. Anthony L Cunningham2
  1. 1Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago Medical School, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. 2Westmead Millenium Institute, University of Sydney, Westmead, NSW, Australia
  1. Dr Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, PO Box 913, Dunedin, New Zealandjeberhart{at}


Objectives: To examine changes in the incidence and prevalence of herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) infection in a birth cohort of 26 year old New Zealanders in whom seroprevalence had been measured at 3.4% at age 21.

Methods: Sera from 869 cohort members were tested using an indirect IgG enzyme linked immunoassay specific to the HSV-2 glycoprotein G. Serological results were compared with detailed sexual histories.

Results: In all, 96 participants (11%) were seropositive for HSV-2, including at least 56 who seroconverted after their 21st birthday. Among those known to be seronegative at age 21, the annual seroconversion rate was 13.5 cases per 1000 per year, compared with 8.1 cases per 1000 per sexually active year before age 21. New infections were associated with female sex and an early age of first intercourse. The average rate of partner change was lower in the cohort after age 21, and was only modestly increased among those who acquired new HSV-2 infections between ages 21 and 26.

Conclusions: HSV-2 seroprevalence has risen sharply in this sexually active cohort, despite a reduction in the overall level of partner change. Increased rates of HSV-2 acquisition after age 21 may be due to a higher prevalence of infection in the pool of potential partners encountered during the third decade of life. Factors related to partner choice may have more influence on the risk of HSV-2 infection than the number of sexual partners alone.

  • herpes simplex virus
  • genital herpes
  • New Zealand

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  • Source of funding: Health Research Council of New Zealand.

  • Conflict of interest: None