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Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2001 Apr;20(4):422-6.

Demographic rather than behavioral risk factors predict herpes simplex virus type 2 infection in sexually active adolescents.

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Department of Pediatrics, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.



Despite the high prevalence of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection in adults and data indicating that many HSV-2 infections are acquired in late adolescence, the demographic and sexual behavior correlates of HSV-2 infection in high risk adolescents have not been extensively studied.


Using a cross-sectional design we evaluated serologic evidence of HSV-2 infection in 381 adolescents age 14 to 19 years at an urban sexually transmitted disease clinic and a community clinic. Study enrollment was offered to all patients participating in a project offering free hepatitis B vaccine. Participants were interviewed and blood was drawn for HSV Western blot.


Twelve percent [95% confidence interval (CI), 8.6 to 15.1] of 379 adolescents in this study had antibodies to HSV-2. Only 22% of HSV-2-seropositive youth reported a history of herpes. Seropositivity for HSV-2 was significantly associated with African-American race (odds ratio, 2.3; 95% CI 1.1 to 4.8) and female gender (odds ratio, 6.0; 95% CI 2.3 to 15.9); 25% of the African-American girls were HSV-2-seropositive. Self-reported condom use, number of sexual partners in the prior 2 months and history of a sexually transmitted disease did not predict HSV-2 antibody status.


HSV-2 infection among adolescents was prevalent, particularly among African-American girls, and correlated with demographic rather than behavioral variables. As in adults most HSV-2 infections were unrecognized. These data suggest that type-specific serologic testing for HSV-2 infection should be considered in sexually active adolescents. Prevention efforts should target children before initiation of sexual activity.

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