WCM-Q researchers find that herpes virus rates are falling in Asia
Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) have found that more than one in 10 of the population in Asia is infected with the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), yet prevalence is declining by 2% yearly.
The study was conducted by the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group (IDEG) at WCM-Q and WHO Collaborating Center for Disease Epidemiology Analytics on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections to address one of the goals of the WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Sexually Transmitted Infections. The study provided the first detailed characterization of HSV-2 epidemiology in Asia, including the WHO regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.
Writing in the prestigious journal Lancet Regional Health - Western Pacific, the researchers said the virus was more common in women than men.
Sawsan AlMukdad, joint first author of the study and researcher at WCM-Q, said: “We applied state-of-the-art methodologies to assess HSV-2 epidemiology in Asia. We found that approximately one in every 10 individuals (12%) is infected with HSV-2 in Asia, but the prevalence is declining by 2% per annually. Prevalence increased gradually from 5% in people under 20 years of age, to 27% in those over 60, but women have a 70% higher prevalence rate compared to men.”
HSV-2 infection is a globally prevalent sexually transmitted infection, which can cause irritation and ulcers in the pelvic region. It is also linked to an increased risk of HIV acquisition and transmission.
Manale Harfouche, joint first author of the study and senior researcher at WCM-Q said: “HSV-2 infection was found to be the cause of 48% of cases where patients present with ulcers in the pelvic region, and 76% of genital herpes cases, highlighting the disease burden caused by this infection in Asia. Our findings fill a gap in our understanding of HSV-2 infection in the global context and provide insights about its epidemiology in this region with implications for the global epidemiology.”
Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, principal investigator of the study and professor of population health sciences at WCM-Q, concluded: “In the context of there being no public health programs targeted to prevent and control HSV-2 transmission, this infection is widespread, with serious disease consequences. There is a need to expand and broaden HSV-2 research and surveillance and to accelerate ongoing efforts to develop HSV-2 vaccines.”
The study, entitled ‘Epidemiology of herpes simplex virus type 2 in Asia: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression’, was conducted with funding from the Qatar National Research Fund through the National Priorities Research Program (NPRP 9-040-3-008) and by pilot funding from the Biomedical Research Program at Weill Cornell Medicine in Qatar.
Key scientific findings of the study
- 12% of the population in Asia are infected with HSV-2, but the prevalence of the infection is declining by 2% per year.
- 48% of genital ulcer disease cases and 76% of genital herpes cases in Asia are caused by the HSV-2 infection.