Background and objectives: Genital herpes remains one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). The sexual behavioral correlates of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection in the general population have not been well characterized.
Goals: To assess demographic and sexual behavioral correlates of symptomatic and subclinical HSV-2 infection.
Study design: Cross-sectional survey of 922 randomly chosen patients and 78 of their partners (1,000 total) in a family practice. Sexual behavior information was collected in 492 people.
Results: Two hundred twenty-five (23%) heterosexual people had HSV-2 infection, but only 59 (26%) reported a history of genital herpes. HSV-2 seroprevalence was 63% in African-American women, 27% in white women, 40% in African-American men, and 12% in white men. In multivariate analyses of risk factors for HSV-2 infection among men, 10 or more sexual partners and a prior STD were statistically significantly associated with HSV-2 infection. Among white women, number of sexual partners, a prior STD, marriage or cohabitation, and less than a college education were predictive of HSV-2 infection. A history of oral sex was the only statistically significant predictor of HSV-2 infection in African-American women.
Conclusions: Risk factors for HSV-2 infection differ by gender and ethnic group. Traditionally recognized behavioral correlates of STD acquisition may not identify people in communities with high prevalence of HSV-2 infection.