What is the role of herpes virus serology in sexully transmitted disease screenig?

Owen McCormack, Jane Corboy, Loan Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


An effective screening test for HSV would need to identify those with HSV infection before substantial morbidity resulted, and effective interventions would need to be available for use in the asymptomatic stage. Screening for HSV-2 must also consider the psychosocial impact of serologic diagnosis in those without symptoms, as a qualitative study showed both negative and positive emotional responses in those with positive serology, with short-term emotional responses described as surprise, denial, confusion, distress, disappointment, and sense of relief. Patients also expressed fear of partner notification, concern for transmission to newborns, and concern for social stigma. Pre- and post-test counseling must accompany testing as negative emotional or psychological responses are amenable to this intervention. A consideration for screening decisions is the positive predictive value (PPV) of testing for the specific patient, which ranges from 58% (in a British population with 4% prevalence) to 90% (in a population with 22% prevalence taken from sexually transmitted disease clinics in the Netherlands). (A PPV of 58% means that only 58% of women with a positive test actually had the disease, and 42% were false-positive). The primary goal for screening pregnant women is prevention of neonatal transmission of HSV. A prospective observational study of 7046 women found that acquisition of HSV-2 during pregnancy was asymptomatic in 74% of 94 cases. No increase in neonatal or pregnancy-related morbidity was seen for those patients who had seroconverted by the time of labor. The main benefit of serology testing during pregnancy has been to identify patients with asymptomatic infection and counsel them on reporting new symptoms for evaluation and treatment. Another prospective cohort study identified seropositive pregnant women with no history of genital herpes. Forty-three of 264 (16%) of these women were able to identify and report clinical HSV to their physician during the pregnancy. Testing of asymptomatic patients with HSV-2 serology and counseling has been recommended by some experts for motivated patients with current or recent sexually transmitted infection or HIV infection and for partners of HSV-positive patients. Screening could give those identified the opportunity to learn to recognize symptoms, decrease transmission, and understand risks of acquiring HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Patients screening negative might have heightened awareness to susceptibility and reinforce lifestyle changes. Success of HSV prevention strategies is reviewed elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-452
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of Family Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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