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National survey of diagnostic services for genital herpes
  1. A M Geretti1,
  2. D W Brown2
  1. 1Department of Virology, Royal Free Hospital and Royal Free and University College Medical School, Pond Street, London NW3 2QG, UK
  2. 2Enteric, Respiratory and Neurological Virus Laboratory, Specialist and Reference Microbiology Division, Health Protection Agency, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5HT, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Anna Maria Geretti
 Department of Virology, Royal Free Hospital Pond Street, London NW3 2QG, UK;


Objective: To investigate the provision of diagnostic services for genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection in the United Kingdom.

Methods: National survey of laboratories providing diagnostic services for genital herpes.

Results: Completed questionnaires were returned from 25/32 (78%) laboratories participating in the Clinical Virology Network, including seven in London, 12 in the rest of England, one in Wales, four in Scotland, and one in Northern Ireland. Virus culture was the diagnostic method of choice in 20/25 (80%) laboratories; 5/25 (20%) routinely used HSV DNA detection by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). HSV PCR for DNA detection in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was available in 17/25 (68%) laboratories. Typing of isolates (HSV-1 or HSV-2) was performed routinely in 22/25 (88%) laboratories. Only 2/25 (8%) laboratories offered HSV type specific serology, although an additional 12/25 (48%) referred requests elsewhere. Consistent with this finding, the number of HSV type specific antibody tests referred to the Health Protection Agency increased by nearly fivefold between 1997 and 2003.

Conclusions: Virus culture remains the preferred diagnostic method for genital herpes, despite evidence indicating that its sensitivity is suboptimal compared to PCR. As HSV PCR is widely available for testing of CSF, it is recommended that clinicians and virologists discuss ways to implement PCR testing of genital swabs, thus enabling greater diagnostic accuracy. A call is made for studies to assess the use of HSV type specific serology in genitourinary medicine (GUM) settings, now that rapid and validated assays have become available and guidelines have been issues to provide recommendations on their use.

  • CSF, cerebrospinal fluid
  • GUM, genitourinary medicine
  • HSV, herpes simplex virus
  • PCR, polymerase chain reaction
  • genital herpes
  • diagnostic services
  • herpes simplex virus

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  • Competing interest: None.

  • On behalf of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) Specialist Interest Group on Genital Herpes, and the UK Clinical Virology Network (CVN).