The psychosocial impact of testing individuals with no history of genital herpes for herpes simplex virus type 2

Sex Transm Dis. 2004 Sep;31(9):517-21. doi: 10.1097/01.olq.0000137901.71284.6b.


Background: Although approximately 20% of the population has a genital herpes (HSV-2) infection, 80% of these infections are unrecognized or asymptomatic. Serologic identification of HSV-2 leads to recognition of infection, which could lead to behavioral changes that reduce transmission. However, there has been concern that HSV-2 testing among persons without symptoms will cause substantial psychosocial harm.

Goal: The goal of this study was to assess the psychosocial impact of an HSV-2 diagnosis among individuals without a history of genital herpes attending a sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic.

Study: We conducted a cohort study of persons with no history of genital herpes attending an STD clinic and seeking herpes testing. Two follow-up interviews were conducted 1 week and 3 months after persons received their test results. Serum was tested using HerpeSelect 2. Psychosocial morbidity was assessed at baseline and each follow up using a mental health score, sexual attitude score, and perception of genital herpes score.

Results: Twenty-one percent (41 of 196) of participants tested positive for HSV-2 antibody. Among patients who were HSV-2-positive, there was no significant change in mental health score from baseline during either follow-up visit, nor was there any difference compared with persons who were HSV-2-negative. Patients who were HSV-2-positive did have a decline (P = 0.01) in their sexual attitude scores at the 1-week follow up compared with persons who were HSV-2-negative, indicating a decrease in positive sexual attitude, but this difference no longer remained at the 3-month follow up (P = 0.74). Patients who were HSV-2-positive viewed having genital herpes as significantly less traumatic than patients who were HSV-2-negative at both follow-up visits (P <0.01).

Conclusion: There was no apparent lasting adverse psychosocial impact of detecting HSV-2 infection among individuals without a history of genital herpes seeking herpes testing at an STD clinic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / analysis
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / blood
  • Herpes Genitalis / diagnosis
  • Herpes Genitalis / epidemiology*
  • Herpes Genitalis / etiology
  • Herpes Genitalis / psychology*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human* / immunology*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human* / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking
  • San Francisco / epidemiology
  • Serologic Tests


  • Antibodies, Viral