Genital HSV-1 DNA detection is associated with a low inflammatory profile in HIV-uninfected South African women

Andile Mtshali, Sinaye Ngcapu, Farzana Osman, Nigel Garrett, Ravesh Singh, Anne Rompalo, Adrian Mindel, Lenine J.P. Liebenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives Genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections are common in South Africa and worldwide. While HSV-2 is known to cause genital lesions, HSV-1 is better known to cause oral infections. Due to the global rise in genital HSV-1 infections, we aimed to compare the genital cytokine environment associated with HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections and their relation to the proinflammatory genital immune environment associated with HIV risk in African women. Methods HSV-1 and HSV-2 DNA were detected by quantitative real-time PCR in menstrual cup specimens collected from 251 HIV-negative women participating in the CAPRISA 083 study in Durban, South Africa. HSV shedding was defined as detection at >150 copies/mL. Forty-eight cytokines were measured in genital fluid by multiplexed ELISA, and multivariable regression models determined associations between genital cytokines and HSV DNA detection. Results HSV-1 DNA detection (24/251 (9.6%)) and shedding (13/24 (54.2%)) was more common than HSV-2 (detection in 14/251 (5.6%), shedding in 0/14). None of the women with detectable HSV had evidence of genital lesions. HSV-2 DNA detection was associated with increased interleukin (IL)-18 and decreased cutaneous T-cell attracting chemokine concentrations, but only in univariable analysis. By contrast, in both univariable and multivariable analyses, the detection of HSV-1 DNA was associated with reduced concentrations of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, IL-7, IL-4, platelet-derived growth factor-ββ and five proinflammatory cytokines associated with HIV risk: IL-6, IL-1β, macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1α, MIP-1β and tumour necrosis factor-α. Conclusions That HSV-1 DNA was more commonly detected and shed than HSV-2 emphasises the need for clinical screening of both viruses, not just HSV-2 in young women. Efforts to reduce genital inflammation may need to consider implementing additional strategies to mitigate a rise in HSV replication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-37
Number of pages5
JournalSexually transmitted infections
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021


  • genital herpes
  • immunology
  • sexual health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology
  • Infectious Diseases


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