Background: The World Health Organization recommends the use of syndromic management for patients presenting with genital ulcer disease (GUD) in developing countries. However, effective treatment guidelines depend on a current country-specific GUD etiological profile, which may change over time.
Methods: From 2004 to 2006, we conducted a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from patients presenting with GUD at a reference STI clinic in Lilongwe, Malawi. Participants were enrolled in a randomized clinical trial of acyclovir added to syndromic management and followed up for up to 28 days. Serologies for HIV (using parallel rapid tests), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2; using Focus HerpeSelect IgG2 ELISA [Focus Technologies, Cypress Hill, CA]), and syphilis (rapid plasma reagin confirmed by Treponema pallidum hemagglutination) were determined, with plasma HIV-1 RNA and CD4 count in HIV-positive patients. Genital ulcer disease etiology was determined by real-time multiplex polymerase chain reaction from lesional swabs.
Results: A total of 422 patients with GUD (313 men; 74%) were enrolled. Overall seroprevalence of HIV-1, HSV-2, and syphilis were 61%, 72%, and 5%, respectively. Ulcer etiology was available for 398 patients and showed the following: HSV-2, 67%; Haemophilus ducreyi, 15%; T. pallidum, 6%; lymphogranuloma venereum, 6%; mixed infections, 14%, and no etiology, 20%. Most HSV-2 ulcers were recurrent (75%). Among all patients with HSV-2, HIV prevalence was high (67%) and HIV seroprevalence was higher among patients with recurrent HSV-2 compared with patients with first-episode HSV-2 (78% vs. 39%, P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Herpes simplex virus type 2 ulcers are highly prevalent in this symptomatic population and strongly associated with HIV. Unlike most locations in sub-Saharan Africa, H. ducreyi remains prevalent in this population and requires periodic monitoring and an appropriate treatment regimen.