Prevalent Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Infection is Associated with Altered Vaginal Flora and an increased Susceptibility to Multiple Sexually Transmitted Infections

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa)


Background: Prevalent herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection increases human immunodeficiency virus acquisition. We hypothesized that HSV-2 infection might also predispose individuals to acquire other common sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Methods: We studied the association between prevalent HSV-2 infection and STI incidence in a prospective, randomized trial of periodic STI therapy among Kenyan female sex workers. Participants were screened monthly for infection with Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis, and at least every 6 months for bacterial vaginosis (BV) and infection with Treponema pallidum, Trichomonas vaginalis, and/or HSV-2.

Results: Increased prevalence of HSV-2 infection and increased prevalence of BV were each associated with the other; the direction of causality could not be determined. After stratifying for sexual risk-taking, BV status, and antibiotic use, prevalent HSV-2 infection remained associated with an increased incidence of infection with N. gonorrhoeae (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 4.3 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.5–12.2]), T. vaginalis (IRR, 2.3 [95% CI, 1.3–4.2]), and syphilis (IRR, 4.7 [95% CI, 1.1–19.9]). BV was associated with increased rates of infection with C. trachomatis (IRR, 2.1 [95% CI, 1.1–3.8]) and T. vaginalis (IRR, 8.0 [95% CI, 3.2–19.8]).

Conclusion: Increased prevalences of HSV-2 infection and BV were associated with each other and also associated with enhanced susceptibility to an overlapping spectrum of other STIs. Demonstration of causality will require clinical trials that suppress HSV-2 infection, BV, or both.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.


The Journal of Infectious Diseases