Objective: Although numerous cross-sectional studies have identified herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) as an important genital pathogen, the specific sexual activities associated with HSV-1 infection are not well delineated. Our objective was to identify demographic and behavioral variables in women associated with the prevalence and acquisition of HSV-1.
Study: From 1998 through 2000, we enrolled 1207 nonpregnant 18- to 30-year-old women from 3 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area health clinics in a prospective cohort study. Serum from the women was tested each visit for the presence of type-specific HSV-1 antibodies.
Results: At enrollment, HSV-1 serum antibodies were detected in only 38% of women ≤20 years of age. Black race, ≤12 years education, older age, and a history of at least 5 lifetime male sex partners were independently associated with the prevalence of HSV-1. In longitudinal analyses, women who had vaginal intercourse were more likely than sexually inactive women to acquire HSV-1 (6.8 vs. 1.2 cases per 100 woman-years of follow up; P = 0.05). Similarly, women who only had receptive oral sex, without vaginal intercourse, were also more likely than sexually inactive women to acquire HSV-1 (9.8 vs. 1.2 cases per 100 woman-years of follow up; P = 0.04).
Conclusions: Receiving cunnilingus and vaginal intercourse are important risk factors for the acquisition of HSV-1 among young women. Genital herpes prevention strategies will need to consider both the increased susceptibility for HSV-1 acquisition that young adults now have at sexual debut and the important contributions of HSV-1 to the burgeoning genital herpes epidemic.