Herpes simplex virus type-2 (HSV-2) seropositive persons have a 3- to 5-fold higher risk of acquiring HIV, possibly because of HSV-2–induced inflammation and recruitment of susceptible immune cells to exposure sites. We hypothesized that cervical HSV-2 activation (ie, viral DNA shedding and/or ulcers) preceded HIV acquisition in the hormonal contraception and HIV cohort.
Zimbabwean women who acquired HIV were matched to HIV-negative women on visit, age, and bacterial sexually transmitted infections. Up to 5 cervical swabs bracketing first polymerase chain reaction detection of HIV DNA (the index visit) were selected (t-6months, t-3months, tindex, t+3months, t+6months). Women with HSV-2 immunoglobulin G+ before tindex were polymerase chain reaction tested for viral shedding. Self-reported and clinician-diagnosed ulcers were documented. Multivariable logistic regression, accounting for matching, estimated adjusted odds ratios (aOR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) at each visit.
Of 387 HSV-2 seropositive women, most had prevalent as compared with incident HSV-2 (91% vs. 9%, respectively). HSV-2 viral shedding was more common among HIV seroconverters than HIV-negative women (26% vs. 14%, P < 0.01). Shedding occurred around HIV acquisition (t-3months aOR, 2.7; 95% CI, 0.8 to 8.8; tindex aOR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.1 to 6.5; t+3months aOR, 2.6; 95% CI, 1.0 to 6.6). Genital ulcers were reported more often among HIV seroconverters than HIV-negative women (13% vs. 7%; P = 0.06) and detection was after HIV acquisition (t+6months aOR, 14.5; 95% CI, 1.6 to 133.9).
HSV-2 shedding appeared synergistic with HIV acquisition followed by presentation of ulcers. Evaluating all sexually transmitted infections rather than HSV-2 alone may clarify the relationship between inflammation and HIV acquisition.