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The psychosocial impact of serological diagnosis of asymptomatic herpes simplex virus type 2 infection


Objectives: To evaluate the impact of a positive herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) serological test on psychosocial functioning among people with no known history of genital herpes.

Methods: Individuals (age 14–30 years) without a history of genital herpes were recruited from an urban university setting and sexually transmitted diseases (STD), primary care, and adolescent clinics. Participants completed a questionnaire addressing psychological functioning, psychosocial adjustment, and perceived quality of sex and were offered free HSV-2 antibody testing. 33 HSV-2 positive people and 60 HSV-2 negative people demographically matched from the same source of recruitment were re-evaluated at a 3 month follow up visit. HSV-2 positive participants also completed a genital herpes quality of life (GHQOL) measure.

Results: Of the 33 who were HSV-2 seropositive, four did not recall their diagnosis. In comparing those who were HSV-2 positive with those who were negative, repeated measures analysis of variance indicated there were no significant differences over time on any of the measures. None the less, many HSV-2 positive individuals indicated that the diagnosis had a notable impact on their quality of life. Also, among the HSV-2 positive people, lower GHQOL at the 3 month follow up was predicted by higher interpersonal sensitivity (r = −0.44, p<0.05), lower social support (r = 0.40, p<0.05), and quality of sex (r = 0.62, p<0.01) at baseline.

Conclusions: A diagnosis of asymptomatic HSV-2 infection does not appear to cause significant lasting psychological difficulties. Those for whom the diagnosis had the greatest impact were interpersonally vulnerable before the diagnosis. These results suggest that assessment of interpersonal distress may be important to include as part of pretest and post-test counselling.

  • ANOVA, analysis of variance
  • BSI, Brief Symptom Inventory
  • GHQOL, genital herpes quality of life
  • HRQOL, herpes health related quality of life
  • HSV, herpes simplex virus
  • MSPSS, Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support
  • STD, sexually transmitted diseases
  • herpes simplex virus
  • genital herpes
  • serological screening
  • psychosocial functioning
  • quality of life

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