Background: Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is among the most common sexually transmitted pathogens in the United States and worldwide. HSV has a high incidence of undetected cases. In addition, there is no treatment, and there is a lack of knowledge why disparities among populations exist. Research studies suggest that fat tissue may participate in body's immune responses, and the impact of obesity on susceptibility to HSV1 infection is not clear. The purpose of this study was to examine whether obesity is a risk factor for HSV1 infection using a large sample from the general population.
Methods/principal findings: This cross-sectional study used data from the National Health and Examination and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2007-2008. Variables, gender, age, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, poverty level, and diabetes represented potential confounders and were included in analyses. The two-tailed Pearson's chi square, student's t test, and a multiple logistic regression analysis were applied to evaluate associations using a significance value of p≤0.05. Adjusted odds ratios with 95% confidence interval represented the degree of these associations. The prevalence of HSV1 infection in US population between 20 and 49 years old was 60.3% (n = 1,536). In this study, having a BMI classified as the obese group (BMI 30-39.9) was significantly associated with HSV1 infection before [unadjusted OR = 1.74 (95% CI 1.20-2.51), p = 0.006] and after controlling for socio-demographic factors [adjusted OR = 1.50 (95%CI 1.06-2.13)], p = 0.026]. This association was stronger than three already established risk factors of age, female gender, and poverty level.
Conclusions/significance: This study provides evidence that obesity may play a role in the susceptibility to HSV1 infection. Findings from this study suggest that obesity should be considered when designing preventive measures for HSV1 infection. These results may also explain why some people acquire HSV1 infections and some do not. Further, these findings may justify an increased emphasis on the control and prevention of HSV1 transmission and other pathogens in overweight and obese populations.