Hormonal birth control, bacterial infections in women linked to increased shedding of type-2 herpes

Women who are infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) may have an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others if they use hormonal contraceptives or have certain bacterial vaginal infections, according to an article in the May 15 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online. The study underscores the importance of diagnosing and treating vaginal bacterial infections to prevent the spread of the herpes virus.

HSV-2 can remain latent in the body for some time, but when it becomes active and begins to multiply (a process known as "shedding"), it becomes transmissible to others, particularly through sexual activity. HSV-2 is a common infection--20 to 25 percent of American adults are infected--and can remain asymptomatic, so most people who are infected don't know it. Evidence suggests that HSV-2 infection can increase the risk of HIV transmission, which is further reason for trying to curb HSV-2's spread.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute studied 330 women with HSV-2 infection to determine what factors heighten the risk of transmitting the virus to sexual partners. They found that the use of oral or injectable hormonal contraceptives is linked with genital tract shedding of HSV-2, which had been suggested by one prior study. However, they also found that two common types of bacterial infections, bacterial vaginosis (BV) and vaginal Group B streptococcus (GBS), were related to an increased risk of HSV-2 shedding, an association that had not previously been made. Vaginal yeast infections were not associated with increased shedding risk.

If confirmed in future studies, the findings would have significant implications, according to Thomas Cherpes, MD, of the Magee-Womens Research Institute and lead author of the study. "Because hormonal contraceptives are used by millions of people throughout the world, even a modest association with HSV-2 shedding would provide a signific

Contact: Steve Baragona
Infectious Diseases Society of America

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