Background: Population-based studies suggest that acquisition of herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV 2) is most common between ages 20 and 29, especially in minority women. We examined HSV 2 infection and viral shedding in a cohort of young women.
Methods: Women, age 18 to 24 (median 21), who were part of an observational cohort enrolled between ages 14 to 17, had blood obtained for HSV 2 antibody. Intensive diary collections on sexual behavior and genital symptoms and weekly vaginal swabs were obtained at regular intervals.
Results: HSV 2 antibodies were detected in 43 of 127 participants (33.9%), only 4 of whom were previously known to be positive. Factors associated with a positive test included older age, years of sexual activity, and number of lifetime partners. Testing for HSV 2 DNA by polymerase chain reaction on weekly vaginal swabs from a 13-week sampling period for each HSV 2 antibody positive participant showed 32 of 43 (74.4%) were positive at least once. The positive predictive value of pain for viral shedding was poor.
Conclusions: HSV 2 infection is very common among young adult women, but symptomatic genital herpes is not. Shedding of HSV 2 DNA can be detected in most antibody positive persons. Early intervention strategies will be needed to control HSV 2 infection.