Introduction: HIV-1 is often acquired in the presence of pre-existing co-infections, such as Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2). We examined the impact of HSV-2 status at the time of HIV-1 acquisition for its impact on subsequent clinical course, and total CD4+ T cell phenotypes.
Methods: We assessed the relationship of HSV-1/HSV-2 co-infection status on CD4+ T cell counts and HIV-1 RNA levels over time prior in a cohort of 186 treatment naïve adults identified during early HIV-1 infection. We assessed the activation and differentiation state of total CD4+ T cells at study entry by HSV-2 status.
Results: Of 186 recently HIV-1 infected persons, 101 (54%) were sero-positive for HSV-2. There was no difference in initial CD8+ T cell count, or differences between the groups for age, gender, or race based on HSV-2 status. Persons with HIV-1/HSV-2 co-infection sustained higher CD4+ T cell counts over time (+69 cells/ul greater (SD = 33.7, p = 0.04) than those with HIV-1 infection alone (Figure 1), after adjustment for HIV-1 RNA levels (-57 cells per 1 log(10) higher HIV-1 RNA, p<0.0001). We did not observe a relationship between HSV-2 infection status with plasma HIV-1 RNA levels over time. HSV-2 acquisition after HIV-1 acquisition had no impact on CD4+ count or viral load. We did not detect differences in CD4+ T cell activation or differentiation state by HSV-2+ status.
Discussion: We observed no effect of HSV-2 status on viral load. However, we did observe that treatment naïve, recently HIV-1 infected adults co-infected with HSV-2+ at the time of HIV-1 acquisition had higher CD4+ T cell counts over time. If verified in other cohorts, this result poses a striking paradox, and its public health implications are not immediately clear.