Herpes simplex virus epidemiology and ocular importance

Cornea. 2001 Jan;20(1):1-13. doi: 10.1097/00003226-200101000-00001.


Purpose: To review the changing epidemiology of herpes simplex disease and correlate it with the epidemiology of ocular herpes simplex disease.

Method: A review of pertinent reports in the world literature about the epidemiology of herpes simplex and specifically about ocular herpes simplex.

Results: In developed countries, many individuals are reaching adolescence and adulthood without prior herpesvirus infection. Herpes simplex genital infection is increasing at a rapid rate in sexually active adolescents and adults, with about one in six adults now infected in the United States. Similar statistics are confirmatory worldwide in developed countries. Active herpes simplex infection is a risk factor for acquisition of human immunodeficiency virus. The Herpetic Eye Disease Study, as well as prior studies from Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, provides us with the epidemiology of ocular herpes simplex. Recent studies suggest an older age of onset and perhaps overall more severe ocular disease as compared with the older literature.

Conclusions: Herpes simplex is a significant health concern at present with genital infections increasing in epidemic proportions. This is also reflected in a rise in the incidence of neonatal herpes. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection is being acquired for the first time in an older age group. A significant and increasing proportion of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1. Serologic studies are no longer as useful in distinguishing orofacial herpes from genital herpes. More acute retinal necrosis syndrome cases are associated with HSV-2. Speculation about the future of ocular herpes is made based on this changing epidemiology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Herpes Genitalis / epidemiology
  • Herpes Genitalis / transmission
  • Herpes Genitalis / virology
  • Herpes Simplex / epidemiology*
  • Herpes Simplex / transmission
  • Herpes Simplex / virology
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / physiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Keratitis, Herpetic / epidemiology
  • Keratitis, Herpetic / transmission
  • Keratitis, Herpetic / virology
  • Prevalence
  • Retinal Necrosis Syndrome, Acute / epidemiology
  • Retinal Necrosis Syndrome, Acute / virology
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Antibodies, Viral