Context: Genital ulcer disease has been epidemiologically linked as a risk factor in the transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1). While herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is the most common cause of genital ulcers, no study has systematically evaluated the frequency or titer of HIV-1 virus in HSV-2 lesions.
Objective: To compare lesional HIV-1 RNA levels during and after genital HSV-2 reactivation and to evaluate the frequency, titer, and duration of HIV-1 RNA shedding in lesions due to HSV-2.
Design: Convenience sample.
Setting: Sexually transmitted disease research clinic at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Patients: Twelve HIV-infected men with a history of symptomatic HSV-2 infection who underwent daily sampling of genital lesions for HIV-1 RNA by polymerase chain reaction assay and HSV-2 by culture.
Main outcome measure: Detection of lesional HIV RNA and HSV-2.
Results: HIV-1 RNA was detected from lesional swabs in 25 of 26 consecutively studied HSV-2 episodes and on 67% of days in which genital lesions were noted. The HIV-1 RNA titers in lesional swabs exceeded 10000 copies/mL of swab sample in 75% of samples (range, 2.2-3.2 x 10(5) copies/mL of swab sample). HIV-1 RNA in genital lesion swabs was seen in persons with high and low titers of plasma HIV-1 RNA and was not associated with plasma HIV-1 RNA levels.
Conclusions: HIV-1 virions can consistently be detected in genital ulcers caused by HSV-2, which suggests that genital herpes infection likely increases the efficiency of the sexual transmission of HIV-1.