Does the symptoms one experiences with their first episode of the herpes simplex virus influence their sexual behaviors and the pursuit of health care? For example, could pain experienced during the first episode cause one to forego sexual activity during that time and/or would it prompt them to see or not see their health care provider? Researchers from the University of Washington sought to describe a relationship, if any, between first episodes of herpes simplex virus (HSV) and pursuance of health care and first episodes and sexual behavior. Recently, Sexually Transmitted Diseases published the study results.
Two hundred thirty-six patients participated in the study. There were 142 women and 94 men; all had confirmed first episodes of genital herpes (33% had genital HSV-1 and 67% genital HSV-2) via lab tests. Participants completed a demographic and sexual history questionnaire. Additionally participants provided information related to symptoms. This included length of symptoms prior to seeing a healthcare provider, absenteeism from school or work related to symptoms, what symptoms motivated them to see a healthcare provider and initial diagnoses they had prior to the study.
Researchers found more than half of the female participants (53%) and almost a quarter of the male participants (24%) were absent from school or work due to their symptoms. Also, male participants took longer to seek care than female participants. Sixty-two percent of participants waited longer than two days before seeking care. Although many participants correctly surmised that HSV was the cause of their symptoms, almost one third of participants continued to have sex after noticing symptoms.
Based on their findings, the researchers ask healthcare providers (HCPs) to consider emphasizing to their patients abstinence while symptoms are present. They found that symptoms alone are not necessarily a deterrent for sexual activity; so abstaining from sex while symptoms are present may seem obvious, it may not be the action patients follow. Missed work and or school does reflect the economic impact HSV may have, therefore HCPs addressing HSV transmission and prevention with patients, will not only help patients and their partners but reduce the economic impact of HSV as well.
Richards, J, Krantz, E, Selke, S, Wald, A: Healthcare Seeking and Sexual Behavior Among Patients with Symptomatic Newly Acquired Genital Herpes Sexually Transmitted Diseases 2008, 35(12): 1015-1021.