Treating Genital Herpes Does Not Reduce Risk of HIV, Study Says

Treating genital herpes does not reduce the risk of contracting HIV, according to a study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, Reuters reports. Herpes simplex virus-2 has been shown to increase the risk of HIV by as much as 69%, so many experts have been examining whether treating HSV-2 might reduce the risk of HIV.

For the study, Deborah Watson-Jones of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and colleagues enrolled 659 female workers ages 16 to 35 at recreational facilities in Tanzania (Fox, Reuters, 3/12). All the participants were HIV-negative and HSV-2-positive at the start of the study. Some of the women were given two daily pills of acyclovir, a drug that can suppress outbreaks of HSV-2, and some were given a placebo. The women visited mobile clinics every three months for 12 to 30 months (Watson-Jones et al., NEJM, 3/12).

The study found that the women given two acyclovir pills daily were not less likely to contract HIV than women given placebos. "These data show no evidence that acyclovir as HSV-suppressive therapy decreases the incidence of infection with HIV," the researchers wrote. They noted that the given dose might not have been high enough to suppress herpes and that urine tests indicated many of the women were not taking the pills as prescribed.

According to the researchers, an estimated 74%, 22% and 63% of new HIV cases among men, women and bar and hotel employees, respectively, in Tanzania are attributable to HSV-2. About 6.5% of people in Tanzania ages 15 to 49 are HIV-positive. HIV prevalence "reaches 40% in high risk groups, such as workers in bars and guesthouses, who may supplement their income by offering sex in return for money or gifts," the researchers added, noting that few use condoms (Reuters, 3/12).

Online The study is available online.

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