Background: The spectrum of genital herpes (GH) has been understudied in men, especially African American men.
Methods: Consecutive men attending a sexually transmitted diseases clinic were enrolled in a study of GH epidemiology. Consenting participants answered questionnaires detailing their sexual and social activities and underwent serological testing for herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and -2) and collection of genital swabs for viral detection.
Results: Of the 516 men enrolled, 465 (90%) were African American. Antibodies to HSV-1 were present in 315 (61%) of participants, and 233 (45%) had antibodies to HSV-2. Factors associated with HSV-2 infection included older age and African American race. HSV was detected in genital swabs from 52 men; 43 (82.7%) swabs were HSV-2 positive, and 9 (17.3%) were HSV-1 positive. The overall viral shedding rate among men (n = 247) with evidence of GH (HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection) was 21.1%, and the asymptomatic shedding rate in this same group was 5.2%. The sensitivities of culture for detection of HSV-1 and HSV-2 were .22 and .58, respectively, compared with that of polymerase chain reaction.
Conclusions: Genital HSV infections are common and largely unrecognized among this segment of the population. HSV-1 infection constitutes a nontrivial proportion of GH in these men.