Purpose of review: Genital herpes has a high global prevalence and burden of disease. This manuscript highlights recent advances in our understanding of genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections.
Recent findings: Studies demonstrate a changing epidemiological landscape with an increasing proportion of genital herpes cases associated with HSV type 1. There is also growing evidence that the majority of infected individuals exhibit frequent, brief shedding episodes that are most often asymptomatic, which likely contribute to high HSV transmission rates. Given this finding as well as readily available serological assays, some have proposed that routine HSV screening be performed; however, this remains controversial and is not currently recommended. Host immune responses, particularly local CD4+ and CD8+ T cell activity, are crucial for HSV control and clearance following initial infection, during latency and after reactivation. Prior HSV immunity may also afford partial protection against HSV reinfection and disease. Although HSV vaccine trials have been disappointing to date and existing antiviral medications are limited, novel prophylactic and therapeutic modalities are currently in development.
Summary: Although much remains unknown about genital herpes, improved knowledge of HSV epidemiology, pathogenesis and host immunity may help guide new strategies for disease prevention and control.