Genital herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections in the United States. We sought to assess differences in HSV-2 seroprevalence among non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites and describe trends over time from 1988 to 2010.
Data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) were used to determine national HSV-2 seroprevalence estimates from National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 1988 to 1994, 1999 to 2002, 2003 to 2006, and 2007 to 2010. Persons aged 14 to 49 years were included in the analyses. Race/Ethnicity was defined by self-report as non-Hispanic white or non-Hispanic black. Purified glycoprotein specific for HSV-2 was used to detect type-specific antibodies using an immunodot assay. The same assay was used in all surveys. History of diagnosed genital herpes was self-reported.
Overall, HSV-2 seroprevalence decreased in the United States between 1988 to 1994 and 2007 to 2010, from 21.2% to 15.5%. Among non-Hispanic white females, HSV-2 seroprevalence decreased from 19.5% (1988–1994) to 15.3% (2007–2010; P < 0.001); HSV-2 seroprevalence remained stable among non-Hispanic black females, 52.5% (1988–1994) to 49.9% (2007–2010; P = 0.1). The female black/white prevalence ratio was 2.7 (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.4–3.0) in 1988 to 1994 increasing to 3.3 (95% CI, 2.9–3.7) in 2007 to 2010 (P = 0.01). Among males, the black/white prevalence ratio was 2.4 (95% CI, 1.9–2.9) in 1988 to 1994 increasing to 4.4 (95% CI, 3.3–5.8) in 2007 to 2010 (P = 0.001). The overall percentage of HSV-2–seropositive survey participants who reported never being told by a doctor or health care professional that they had genital herpes did not change significantly between 1988 to 1994 and 2007 to 2010 and remained high (90.7% and 87.4%, respectively).
Although HSV-2 seroprevalence decreased overall, the decrease was most marked among non-Hispanic whites, and racial disparities significantly increased over time. These persistent disparities demonstrate the need for innovative prevention strategies among this at-risk population.