What are the racial predilections of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection?

Updated: Feb 27, 2019
  • Author: J Michael Klatte, MD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
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Although the risk of herpes simplex virus infection is not related to race, infection rates in the United States vary according to race because of various factors, such as racial and ethnic differences in the prevalence of poverty and low socioeconomic status, access to health care, sexual and health-related behavior, and illicit drug use.

By age 5 years, more than 35% of black children are infected with HSV-1 compared with 18% of white children. Through adolescence, the prevalence of antibodies to HSV-1 in blacks is approximately twice the rate among whites. By comparison, the estimated prevalence of antibodies to HSV-1 in Mexican American teenagers is between that of blacks and whites. [27]  By age 40 years, HSV-1 seroprevalence is similar among blacks and whites. The prevalence of HSV-2 antibodies among blacks is 3-4 times higher than that among whites.

Seroprevalence among women of childbearing age in the late 1970s was estimated to be 50% for blacks and 20% for whites. By the late 1980s, rates of infection had increased to approximately 60% for blacks and 35% for whites. As shown in 2 nationwide surveys of HSV-2 seroprevalence in the last 2 decades, the cumulative lifetime incidence of HSV-2 reaches 25% in white women, 20% in white men, 80% in black women, and 60% in black men. [44] Studies have indicated that the seroprevalence of HSV-2 among Hispanics ranges from 17-22.3%. Infants born to non-Hispanic white women may be at higher risk of herpes simplex virus infections. This is a result of a greater likelihood that these women are herpes simplex virus seronegative and therefore at risk of acquiring a primary HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection in late pregnancy.

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