Background: The World Health Organization estimates that 536 million people aged 15-49 are infected with Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the causative agent of genital herpes. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of behavioral and demographic factors that contribute to the high HSV-2 sero-prevalence among women participating in a HIV prevention trial. The Methods for Improving Reproductive Health in Africa (MIRA) study assessed the effectiveness the latex diaphragm and lubricant gel on HIV prevention among women in South Africa and Zimbabwe. At screening an interviewer administered questionnaire on demographics and sexual behaviour was obtained. HSV-2 serum antibodies were detected using HerpeSelect™ ELISA IgG. Statistical analysis was performed using STATA release 12.0. This study was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov,number NCT00121459 on the 28th February 2007.
Findings: Of the 3 472 women screened at the Durban research sites 2 218 (73%) had a prevalent HSV-2 infection and 1431 (41%) of the women were also co-infected with HIV. In the multivariate analyses, older women (adjusted odds ratio) [aOR]: 3.49, 95% CI: (2.71,4.49) for >35 years and aOR: 1.82, 95% CI: 1.49, 2.22 for 25-34 years compared with <25 years, p < 0.001 for both comparisons were more likely to be HSV-2 sero-positive. Low level of education (OR: 1.26 95% CI: 1.03, 1.53), having >1 life-time sexual partners (OR: 2.48, 95% CI: 1.92, 3.20), parity >1 (OR: 1.95 95% CI: 1.92, 3.20) and being HIV positive (OR: 6.31, 95% CI: 5.06, 7.88) were significantly associated with HSV-2 infection.
Conclusion: The high sero-prevalence of HSV-2 in the studied population is of great public health importance since this high risk population could act as a reservoir for future infections particularly HIV transmission.