Background: Evidence suggests that a substantial proportion of new HIV infections in African countries are associated with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Thus, the magnitude of HSV-2 infection in an area may suggest the expected course of the HIV epidemic. We determined prevalence of genital herpes, syphilis and associated factors among pregnant women from a remote rural Tanzanian community that has a low but increasing HIV prevalence.
Methods: We analysed 1296 sera and responses to a standard structured questionnaire collected from pregnant women aged between 15-49 years, attending six different antenatal clinics within rural Manyara and Singida regions in Tanzania. Linked anonymous testing (with informed consent) of the serum for specific antibodies against HSV-2 was done using a non-commercial peptide- 55 ELISA. Antibodies against syphilis were screened by using rapid plasma reagin (RPR) and reactive samples confirmed by Treponema pallidum haemagglutination assay (TPHA).
Results: Previous analysis of the collected sera had shown the prevalence of HIV antibodies to be 2%. In the present study the prevalence of genital herpes and syphilis was 20.7% (95% CI: 18.53-23.00) and 1.6% (95% CI: 1.03-2.51), respectively. The presence of HSV-2 antibodies was associated with polygamy (OR 2.2, 95% CI: 1.62 - 3.01) and the use of contraceptives other than condoms (OR 1.7, 95% CI: 1.21 - 2.41). Syphilis was associated with reporting more than one lifetime sexual partner (OR 5.4, 95% CI: 1.88 - 15.76) and previous spontaneous abortion (OR 4.3, 95% CI: 1.52-12.02).
Conclusion: The low prevalence of HIV infection offers a unique opportunity for strengthening HIV prevention in a cost-effective manner. The identification and control of other prevalent curable STIs other than syphilis and specific intervention of HSV-2 in specific populations like pregnant women would be one among approaches towards preventing incident HIV infections.