Herpes simplex virus type 2 serological testing and psychosocial harm: a systematic review

Sex Transm Infect. 2011 Dec;87(7):594-600. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2011-050099. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


Background: Serological testing for herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 2 in persons without a history of genital herpes is not recommended, partly because of concerns that an HSV-2 diagnosis would lead to negative psychosocial sequelae. This review aimed to examine the evidence regarding the psychosocial effects of HSV-2 serological testing.

Methods: Eight electronic databases were searched for empirical studies indexed before March 2010. Abstracts from relevant conferences were reviewed and senior authors contacted to find unpublished materials. Eligible studies examined participants without a history of genital herpes who underwent HSV-2 serological testing and reported data from at least one quantitative or qualitative psychosocial assessment conducted after receiving HSV results.

Results: Of nine studies that satisfied the inclusion criteria, seven reported that HSV-2 diagnosis by serological test did not have a persistent negative impact on 309 participants' mental health or sexual attitude and satisfaction. Two studies reported a negative impact of testing; one found that five HSV-2-seropositive college students had increased distress 3 months post-testing compared with HSV-2-negative individuals, and the other found self-reports of sexual undesirability up to 1 year after diagnosis in some people. The perceived severity of a genital herpes diagnosis was moderately severe for participants before testing; however, post-testing, the reported severity of a herpes diagnosis was lower among those testing HSV-2 positive.

Conclusions: HSV-2 diagnosis by type-specific serological testing did not result in long-term psychosocial harm in most persons without an identified history of genital herpes. Concerns about sustained emotional impact should not deter clinicians from offering HSV-2 serological testing to appropriate patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Genitalis / psychology*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Serologic Tests / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult