Until recently, there was little evidence to show that knowledge of infection would lead to decreased transmission of herpes simplex virus (HSV) to others. But Anna Wald, MD, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle studied 199 patients with newly acquired genital HSV-2 infection and found that patients were about half as likely to transmit the virus when they knew they had genital herpes and informed their sexual partners.
According to Wald, "these findings suggest that testing persons with HSV type-specific serologic assays and encouraging disclosure may result in decreased risk of HSV-2 transmission to sexual partners."
The importance of this finding is described by editorialists Edward Hook III, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Peter Leone, MD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as one of three effective tools to prevent the spread of this sexually transmitted disease (STD). "Genital herpes is one of the few common STDs for which, at present, there is little coordinated emphasis on control efforts," say Hook and Leone. The two experts also support suppressive antiviral therapy and condom use as the other necessary elements to control the spread of genital herpes nationwide.
This most recent study also found that most people who transmitted HSV did not know that they had genital herpes. Wald, Hook, and Leone suggest that physicians should not only increase testing for HSV, but should also counsel their patients about transmitting the virus and disclosing their HSV status to sex partners.