Institut Fournier, 25, bd Saint-Jacques, 75014 Paris, France.
Genital herpes is a common, distressing infection which, due to increasing incidence world-wide, has become a prominent public health issue over recent years, even throughout the decade of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Since the late 1970’s, the prevalence of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection has increased by approximately 30 percent in the US. The number of sufferers world-wide is currently estimated at approximately 86 million people. New serological methods based on the detection of type-specific antibodies to herpes simplex virus (HSV) glycoproteins have clarified issues concerning the true incidence of genital herpes, the modifying effect of prior HSV-1 infections, the changing proportions of HSV-1 genital herpes, and the importance of asymptomatic shedding. Patients’ ignorance of their diagnosis along with the occurrence of atypical symptomatology and asymptomatic viral shedding of HSV all contribute to the transmission of genital herpes. Genital ulcer disease, of which genital herpes is the most common cause in developed countries, is an important risk factor in the acquisition and transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and has contributed to the spread of this disorder. Risk factors for genital herpes HSV-2 are strongly related to lifetime number of sexual partners, number of years of sexual activity, male homosexuality, black race, female gender and a history of previous sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Understanding the epidemiology of genital herpes is of great importance in limiting the spread of this STD. In this review, we summarise current knowledge related to the epidemiology of genital herpes.