Background: Herpesviruses establish latent infections in their hosts for life. The scarcity of data that exists in regard to herpesvirus infections in many African regions, could partly be due to the mild nature of their primary infections and the lack of means for their proper diagnosis. However, in recent decades the alarming spread of HIV infection in Africa and associated frequent reactivation of herpesvirus infections is leaving less room for neglect. This seroprevalence study is intended to help in the evaluation of the prevalence of herpesvirus infections in Eritrea.
Objective: To evaluate the spread of herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2), cytomegalovirus (CMV), and varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infections.
Study design: The study population groups comprise female sex workers (FSW), former guerrilla fighters, truck drivers, port workers, a tribe called Rashaida, pregnant women, children under 5 years of age, and children over 5 years of age. The groups of pregnant women and children under and over 5 years of age were included to form a background for the evaluation of groups considered at risk for sexually transmitted or blood borne infections.
Results: All study groups had a high seroprevalence of HSV-1 infections ( > 80%), except for the children under 5 years of age. The FSW had the highest prevalence of HSV-2 infections, 80%, followed by guerrilla fighters, truck drivers, port workers, pregnant women, children, and the Rashaidas. Positivity for antibodies against CMV was > 90% in all studied populations. The prevalence of VZV infections was surprisingly low in the tribe of Rashaida, 44% compared to more than 90% in the other adult groups tested for VZV (P = 0.0001).
Conclusion: The study shows that the prevalence of HSV-2 in the risk group of FSW was high, which could partly be explained by their sexual behaviours. HSV-2 was particularly low in the Rashaida group and, as expected, in the children. The low prevalence of VZV observed in the Rashaida is of importance since it makes them vulnerable to infection with varicella during their inevitable integration with the other tribes in their society.