Genital Herpes: Psychosocial Outcomes of Labeling Adults and Adolescents with Diagnosis Public Deposited

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  • February 28, 2019
  • Uribe, Richard
    • Affiliation: Gillings School of Global Public Health, Public Health Leadership Program
  • Background: Genital herpes, caused by one of the two herpes simplex virus (HSV) subtypes (HSV-1 or HSV-2), is one of the most prevalent sexually-transmitted infections in the United States.1 Historically, studies focusing on mental health and psychosocial issues related to disease have been lacking. Genital herpes is associated with significant stigma; people newly diagnosed with genital herpes may experience significant adverse psychosocial outcomes. The exact nature of these harms, magnitude of effect, and duration are unclear. Objective: To determine the short-term and long-term psychosocial outcomes among adults, adolescents and pregnant women newly diagnosed with genital herpes. Methods: Seven electronic databases were searched for relevant studies through April 2015. Eligible studies were those that evaluated participants without a prior history of genital herpes who were then told they had genital herpes based on the results of a HSV-2 serological test alone (or clinical presentation) and reported any psychosocial outcome (quantitative or qualitative) related to receiving the HSV-2 results or diagnosis. Results Eight studies met inclusion criteria (two qualitative studies, one cross-sectional study, and five prospective cohort studies. The two qualitative studies enrolled symptomatic HSV-2 positive participants and highlighted significant concerns related to sexuality, transmission of HSV, and disclosure to partners following diagnosis.43,44 The prospective cohort studies had mixed results in general psychosocial outcomes not specific to genital herpes in terms of anxiety and depression as an emotion. All five studies comparing HSV-2 positive versus HSV-2 negative reported with no significant difference between HSV-2 positive individuals and HSV-2 negative/no history of genital history individuals over time, yet two of the studies reported an increase psychological distress once newly diagnosed with genital herpes. In the study comparing newly diagnosed genital herpes versus previously diagnosed genital herpes, the trauma of genital herpes diagnosis was lower for individuals with prior diagnosis than the newly diagnosed participants.45 The cross-sectional study, Mark et al, 2009, had only HSV-2 positive individuals, reporting on the prevalence of significant psychosocial morbidity, notably a high prevalence of shame and worry.42 Conclusion: A new genital herpes diagnosis of HSV-2 may result in short-term psychosocial changes and possibly long-term based on the small studies in this review. However, given the heterogeneity in populations, study designs, comparators and outcomes assessed in included studies, no definitive conclusions can be made. Future studies should include more standardized measurement tools of psychosocial outcomes to increase the certainty of conclusion.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Track: HC&P
  • Paper type: Systematic review
  • Harris, Russell
  • Feltner, Cindy
  • Master of Public Health
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2015
Deposit record
  • 35019de3-7254-4774-978c-289f51b0ed7e

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