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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Is suspicion of genital herpes infection associated with avoiding sex? A clinic-based study

Richard A. Crosby A D , Sara Head A , Gregory Moore B and Adewale Troutman C

A College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, USA.

B University Health Service, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, USA.

C Louisville Metropolitan Health Department, 400 East Gray Street, PO Box 1704, Louisville, KY 40201, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email: crosby@uky.edu

Sexual Health 5(3) 279-283 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/SH08002
Submitted: 10 January 2008  Accepted: 15 May 2008   Published: 6 August 2008

Abstract

Objective: The present study tested the research hypothesis that sexually transmissible disease (STD) clinic patients suspecting genital herpes infection would be more likely than their ‘non-suspecting’ counterparts to abstain from sex to avoid transmission of a perceived STD. Methods: Recruitment (n = 351) occurred in a publicly-funded STD clinic located in a metropolitan area of the southern USA. Participants were tested for herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) using a rapid test manufactured by Biokit (Lexington, MA, USA) and they completed a self-administered questionnaire (using a 3-month recall period). Results: Well over one-third (38.7%) of those indicating suspicion also indicated avoiding sex with steady partners because of concerns about STDs as compared with 28.0% among those not indicating suspicion (prevalence ratio = 1.38; 95% CI = 1.02–1.87, P = 0.036). The relationship between suspicion and avoiding sex with non-steady partners was not significant (P = 0.720). The relationship with steady partners only applied to people who were female (P = 0.013), single (P = 0.017), reported symptoms of genital herpes (P = 0.003), perceived that genital herpes would have a strong negative influence on their sex life (P = 0.0001), and who subsequently tested positive for HSV-2 (P = 0.012). Conclusions: Among STD clinic attendees, suspicion of genital herpes infection may translate into partner protective behaviour, but only for a minority of people and only with respect to sex with steady partners. Clinic-based and community-based education programs may benefit public health by teaching people (especially single women) how to effectively recognise symptoms of primary genital herpes infections. Reversing the often prevailing ethic of genital herpes as a ‘community secret’ will clearly be a challenge to these education programs.

Additional keywords: genital herpes, sexual behaviour, sexually transmissible diseases, symptoms.


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