Background: Much of the evidence that human herpesvirus type 8 (HHV-8) is associated with Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) has come from molecular studies of HHV-8 DNA. Seroepidemiological studies have been hampered by the lack of a reliable assay.
Methods: The serological data reported here were obtained by means of a mouse monoclonal antibody-enhanced immunofluorescence assay for antibodies to lytic and latent HHV-8 antigens. 1435 single samples of serum (or plasma) from many different disease groups and parts of the world were assayed.
Findings: All patients with African endemic KS and 96% of American patients with AIDS-associated KS were seropositive for lytic antigen, as were 90% of American HIV-infected homosexual men; by contrast only 23% of HIV-seropositive drug users and 21% of HIV-seropositive women were positive for HHV-8 antibody. Factor VIII treatment before 1983 did not increase the risk of HHV-8 infection in patients with haemophilia. In the American general population, about 25% of adults (including volunteer blood donors) and 2-8% of children had antibodies to HHV-8.
Interpretation: Our data are consistent with HHV-8 being primarily associated with sexual transmission, but the HHV-8 seropositivity rate in American children suggests that there is a non-sexual route of HHV-8 infection also. On the evidence available so far, the risk of parenteral transmission is low.