Objectives: Our goal was to define the frequency of asymptomatic herpes simplex virus type 2 shedding by culture and polymerase chain reaction and to correlate our findings with cervical anti-herpes simplex virus type 2 immunoglobulin A production.
Study design: Women who were seropositive for herpes simplex virus type 2 collected daily genital tract samples during the third trimester for culture and deoxyribonucleic acid quantitation by polymerase chain reaction. Cervical secretions were collected weekly for anti-herpes simplex virus type 2 immunoglobulin A. Asymptomatic shedding by culture versus polymerase chain reaction and anti-herpes simplex virus type 2 immunoglobulin A detection with and without genital shedding were compared by means of McNemar's chi 2 test.
Results: Asymptomatic shedding was more frequent by polymerase chain reaction than by culture (13.8% vs 2.3%, p < 0.0001). When cervical anti-herpes simplex virus type 2 immunoglobulin A was present, patients were more likely to have negative results by polymerase chain reaction than positive results (66.7% vs 26.7%, p = 0.001). Anti-herpes simplex virus type 2 immunoglobulin A was detected beyond 37 weeks in only one subject.
Conclusions: Polymerase chain reaction was more sensitive than culture for detecting asymptomatic genital herpes simplex virus. The role of immunoglobulin A in clearing genital herpes simplex virus remains to be determined.