The conceptual importance of this study was largely based on the increasing evidence that HSV-2 infection has a synergistic activity on acquiring HIV infection and this has been well documented [6–14, 16, 17]. Since there were virtually no data on the prevalence of HSV-2 in the community of Northeastern states of India, there was a need to know the prevalence of this infection to plan an intervention strategy especially in the high HIV prevalent states of Northeast India. This sero-epidemiological study was based on detection of HSV-2 IgG antibodies against type specific glycoprotein G2. The HerpeSelect HSV-2 IgG ELISA test (Focus Diagnostics), in an evaluation study demonstrated a sensitivity of 96% in a group of pregnant women and 95% in a STD population of men and women. The specificity of Focus HSV-2 ELISA was also high in these groups i.e. 97% in pregnant women and 96% in the STD population . The relative specificity of the assay as compared to Western Blot assay (Gold standard) in a low prevalent population was shown to be 98.7% and relative sensitivity 100% as per instruction manual of the kit. Though, the kit used in our study has a very high sensitivity and specificity, the false positivity of HSV-2 in low prevalence area cannot be ruled out. We also acknowledge the limitations of statistical test used in this cross-sectional study which may be prone to residual confounding effect in comparison to case control studies.
Our study detected a significant geographical variation of HSV-2 seroprevalence which has also been observed in an earlier study . Community based studies conducted elsewhere in India also reported wide variations in seroprevalence [3, 25]. One study from Chennai based on study of around 30 communities, reported a wide variation in prevalence of HSV-2 from 4.1 to 49.1% with a mean prevalence of 15.3% . Studies conducted among the high risk groups showed highest seroprevalence (40% to 70%) [12, 26–28]. In our study, we expected highest HSV-2 prevalence in the state of Manipur, which has the highest HIV prevalence in India and expected lowest in the state of Arunachal Pradesh which has the lowest HIV prevalence in the country . But to the contrary, we detected the lowest HSV-2 seroprevalence in the state of Manipur (2.7%) and highest in the state of Arunachal Pradesh (15%). This may be the result of the widespread public awareness in the state of Manipur in last two decades on practice of safe sex to fight HIV epidemic in that state, whereas such public awareness drive is virtually absent in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.
In comparison to other National and international studies, our finding of 8.7% HSV-2 seroprevalence was relatively low. A community based study in New Delhi reported 8.6% seroprevalence among females, which is similar to our findings . Higher seroprevalence were reported from Chennai (15.3%) in South India , central India (12.4%)  and Gujarat (23.3%) in Western India among women attending gynaecology OPD . Seroprevalence of 7.5% among pregnant women from Jammu & Kashmir, North India , and 7.0% among females from Andhra Pradesh, South India was reported in a community based study . The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) surveillance data from USA found HSV-2 seroprevalence of 20.9% in US females aged '14 to 49 years', with an overall seroprevalence of 16.2% . The HSV-2 seroprevalence among 15 to 49 years females in South Asian region was reported to be 33.2%, whereas it was 19.4% globally .
In comparison to low income group, we observed significantly higher HSV-2 seroprevalence among middle or high income group. Studies in India and abroad also observed association of socio-economic status (SES) with HSV-2 seroprevalence [3, 25, 34]. This has been observed from both the previously mentioned study from New Delhi , and Chennai . In the study from New Delhi, HSV-2 seroprevalence was found to be more common in the urban middle class community with higher average monthly income (12.6%) as compared to urban slum with lower average monthly income (3.1%) . While, the study from Chennai reported an independent association of community-level factors like SES with HSV-2 sero-prevalence . In another study from Australia, found that HSV-2 seroprevalence was significantly lower in areas of low SES than in high SES areas among both men and women for all ages . However, some other studies have reported significant association between HSV-2 seropositivity and lower income . Though this paradox would be hard to explain, it may be related to difference in risk behavior among the different income groups. It was seen in our study that majority of Muslim subjects (84.9%, 90/106) were from low income group. It was also observed that Muslim subjects had the lowest HSV-2 seroprevalence (3.8%) compared to Hindu (5.8%) and Christians (12.6%), which may explain this finding in our study.
It is generally being observed that HSV-2 seroprevalence increases with increasing age [25, 33, 36, 37]. In our study we also observed an increase in prevalence with age (6.5% to 9.4%) but with a peak in prevalence (10.5%) in the 22-25 years age group. This may reflect a relatively recent introduction of HSV-2 in the community which may have resulted in higher prevalence among sexually active younger subjects rather than the older subjects which didn't had the exposure to the virus when they were sexually active in the past.
The risk factors for HSV-2 are well known and include polygamous relationships/multiple sex partners', unsafe sex, increasing numbers of lifetime partners and association with other STIs or GUD etc [7, 16, 35, 38]. The strongest predictor for infection is a person's number of lifetime sex partners . In our study, it was also observed that subjects with multiple sex partners had significantly higher HSV-2 seroprevalence compared to single sex partner. Moreover, it was seen that higher coitarchal age was associated with a lower chance of HSV-2 infection. The association of coitarchal age less than 18 years or early age of first sex with seroprevalence was also observed in other studies [39, 40]. In this study, higher seroprevalence was found among Christians versus Muslims. This difference in prevalence with religion (3.8% in Muslim compared to 12.6% among Christians), may be due to practice of male circumcision at infancy or early childhood by the spouses of the pregnant women among Muslims. Male circumcision lowers the prevalence of HSV-2 or HPV has been reported in some studies . Subjects from nuclear family, middle income group, low level of education, having regular source of income, had a higher risk of HSV-2 infections. Modifiable risk factors included, low coitarchal age, never or low condom usage, and multiple sex partners, which can be incorporated in awareness programs to lower the transmission of HSV-2 in the community.
Our study found a significantly higher HSV-2 seropositive amongst subjects with sign and symptoms of genito-pelvic infections such as genital ulcer, pelvic pain and cervicitis. In our study it was found that HSV-2 prevalence was higher among subjects with excessive vaginal discharge but was not significant statistically. The subjects with history of genital ulcers had the highest HSV-2 seroprevalence among the study variables. Also, it is known that majority of HSV2 seropositive people shed virus whether or not they are aware of recurrent genital lesions. Genital tract inflammation is evident in "asymptomatic shedders" . Studies conducted in Surat and Delhi also observed higher HSV-2 seroprevalence in subjects with vaginal discharge and lower abdominal or low backache [30, 43].
In Northeast India, the impact of HSV-2 infection in driving the HIV-1 epidemics is still not clear. Although HSV-2 vaccines are still in clinical trials, acyclovir when given continuously or episodically can reduce recurrence of ulcers in individuals with HSV-2 infection. Though clinical trials in Africa on use of acyclovir did not reduce the risk of linked transmission of HIV-1 to couples, however it showed a reduction of plasma HIV-1 RNA level as well as 73% reduction in occurrence of genital ulcers due to HSV-2 . Multiple studies have shown that a persistent increase of 0.5 log10 copy per millilitre in the plasma HIV-1 level is associated with a clinically shortened time for progression to AIDS . The demonstration that daily anti-HSV-2 therapy can reduce the viral load by this amount is thus of direct importance for treatment. The study by Nagot et al. underlines the findings of a 1989 study showing that zidovudine plus acyclovir (ACV) was associated with prolonged survival, as compared with zidovudine alone . The data from another controlled trial with HSV-2 suppressive therapy with acyclovir showed no evidence of decreasing the incidence of HIV in Tanzania . This landmark study fails to demonstrate the role of acyclovir in decreasing the transmission of HIV among HSV-2 seropositives. This is in contrary to the fact that acyclovir is activated into a human herpes virus (HHV) DNA polymerase inhibitor exclusively by HHV kinases. It suppresses HIV-1 in HHV coinfected human tissues but not in HHV free tissue or cell cultures . Acyclovir treatment in patients coinfected with HSV/HIV has been observed to alter the disease course and decrease HIV viral load which attributed to indirect effects of HSV suppression on HIV replication . Also, if we accept the fact that HSV-2 increases the risk of HIV acquisition by 2-3 folds, than suppression of HSV-2 by ACV which results in decrease genial ulceration and inflammation would be expected to influence HIV acquisition. Use of antivirals for suppression of HSV-2 for lowering the risk of HIV transmission cannot be overlooked until more light is shed on this topic. Therapeutic options that provide a complete eradication of HSV-2 including suppression of genital inflammation may be more relevant for decreasing HIV transmission in high HSV-2 prevalent regions.