Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is a DNA virus that is efficiently transmitted through intimate genital tract contact and causes persistent infection that cannot be eliminated. HSV-2 may cause frequent, symptomatic self-limited genital ulcers, but in most persons infection is subclinical. However, recent studies have demonstrated that the virus is frequently shed from genital surfaces even in the absence of signs or symptoms of clinical disease and that the virus can be transmitted during these periods of shedding. Furthermore, HSV-2 shedding is detected throughout the genital tract and may be associated with genital tract inflammation, which likely contributes to increased risk of HIV acquisition. This review focuses on HSV diagnostics, as well as what we have learned about the importance of frequent genital HSV shedding for (i) HSV transmission and (ii) genital tract inflammation, as well as (iii) the impact of HSV-2 infection on HIV acquisition and transmission. We conclude with discussion of future areas of research to push the field forward.
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