Emergence of herpes simplex type 1 as the main cause of recurrent genital ulcerative disease in women in Northern Ireland

J Clin Virol. 2003 May;27(1):22-9. doi: 10.1016/s1386-6532(02)00105-1.


Background: Genital herpes is a common infection affecting some 20% of sexually active people. Although herpes simplex virus (HSV) types 1 and 2 can both establish genital latency, reactivation from the sacral ganglia favours HSV-2. Over the past decade the incidence of type 1 genital infection in women has greatly increased.

Objectives: To determine whether the increased prevalence of HSV-1 genital infection was benign or influencing the pattern of virus recovery in recurrent infection.

Study design: A retrospective analysis of laboratory computer records was undertaken. Patients attending six genitourinary medicine (GUM) departments, over an 80 months period, were identified. Recurrent infection was confirmed where virus was recovered from at least two separate episodes of genital ulceration that were separated by an interval of 12 or more weeks. Episodes were further analysed for frequency, age, gender and virus type.

Results: Sixty nine patients with recurrent genital herpetic infection were identified. HSV-1 and HSV-2 were predominantly recovered from recurrent genital infections in females (34 HSV-1 vs. ten HSV-2) and males (one HSV-1 vs. 24 HSV-2), respectively (P>0.001). The mean age of females and males, at the initial diagnosis, was 26 and 39 years. There was no difference in the recurrence rate by type.

Conclusions: HSV-1 has become the commonest cause of recurrent genital ulceration in Northern Ireland, almost entirely due its recent increased prevalence in women over the last decade. Women are experiencing genital herpetic infections at an earlier age than men.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / epidemiology
  • Herpes Genitalis / virology*
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / genetics
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Northern Ireland / epidemiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies