A psycho-behavioral model of genital herpes recurrence

J Psychosom Res. 1991;35(1):25-36. doi: 10.1016/0022-3999(91)90004-8.


To develop a model of how stress and other psychosocial constructs may interact to explain recurrences of genital herpes, assessments of major and minor life stress, locus of control, arousal or stimulation seeking, and social support were given to 153 university students (33% male; 67% female) who were seropositive for genital herpes. Retrospective and concurrent indices of illness vulnerability were evaluated. Serum levels of thymosin-alpha-1, a peptide sensitive to psychosocial stress, were measured at the beginning of the study. A causal model suggested by previous research was not supported by the data. An alternate model showed that psychosocial stress did not affect herpes recurrence directly, but instead predisposed subjects to more generalized illnesses, which in turn mediated recurrences. Social support increased rather than decreased the likelihood of illness vulnerability, thus increasing the risk of recurrence. Higher levels of both arousal seeking and external locus of control increased illness vulnerability but moderated the likelihood of herpes recurrence. Higher levels of thymosin-alpha-1 were related to greater illness vulnerability but this peptide was not associated with psychosocial stress as originally predicted. Additional construct validation of the role of illness vulnerability in increasing the risk of herpes recurrence is recommended.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arousal* / physiology
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / immunology
  • Herpes Genitalis / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sick Role
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology