A comparison between detailed and simple histories in the diagnosis of genital herpes complicating pregnancy

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Apr;172(4 Pt 1):1299-303. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(95)91496-x.


Objective: All women seropositive for herpes simplex virus-2 are at risk for asymptomatic viral shedding at the onset of labor and neonatal transmission of the virus. Unfortunately, only 20% to 35% of seropositive adults give a history consistent with genital herpes. We evaluated whether more detailed questioning during pregnancy might elucidate symptoms predictive of seropositivity and therefore better identify women at risk for herpes simplex virus shedding at delivery.

Study design: During pregnancy 201 randomly selected women were asked in-depth questions about recurrent genital symptoms and whether they "currently have or have ever had genital herpes." An assessment was made whether the patient had a history compatible with genital herpes. This assessment and the "yes/no" history of genital herpes obtained by physicians at the initial prenatal visit were both compared with herpes simplex virus serologic studies by Western blot.

Results: Of 201 patients interviewed, 177 gave no history of genital herpes. Of these, 30.4% were seropositive for herpes simplex virus-2. Detailed histories on these 177 patients indicated that among the 159 subjects without suggestive symptoms or with somewhat suggestive symptoms the corresponding rates of seropositivity were 28% and 30%. Among the 18 (10.2%) subjects with highly suggestive symptoms, only 50% were seropositive. The positive predictive values for recurrent genital symptoms to predict herpes simplex virus-2 seropositivity ranged from 30% to 57%.

Conclusion: A detailed history of genital symptoms is no better at identifying an herpes simplex virus-2 seropositive patient than is simply asking if she has ever had genital herpes. Serologic screening is a more accurate method of identifying women with past genital herpes or those who are at risk for acquiring genital herpes during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Blotting, Western
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Genitalis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking / methods*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / diagnosis*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / immunology
  • Prenatal Care
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Simplexvirus / immunology


  • Antibodies, Viral