US Task Force Recommends Against Routine Screening for Herpes Simplex Interview with:

Ann Kurth, Ph.D., C.N.M., R.N.

Dr. Ann Kurth What is the background for this study?  What are the main findings?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by one of two subtypes of the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2). The condition is common in the United States, as the CDC estimates that almost one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 are afflicted.

Unfortunately, there are no good screening tests for herpes and it cannot be cured. After a systematic review of the evidence, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force determined that, for adolescents and adults who have no signs or symptoms, including pregnant women, the harms of screening for genital herpes outweigh the benefits. These harms include high rates of false-positive screening tests, potential concerns around unnecessary antiviral medication use, and anxiety and relationship issues related to diagnosis. Additionally, the benefits of screening proved small, in part because early identification and treatment do not alter the course of the condition.

In the end, due to the lack of benefits in the face of serious harms, the Task Force recommended against routine serologic screening for genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection. What should readers take away from this report?

Response: Because there are not good screening tests, and available tests are likely to lead to a false diagnosis in many people without symptoms, the Task Force concluded that the harms of screening for herpes outweigh the benefits. As a result, we recommend against screening for genital HSV in patients with no signs or symptoms of infection, including adolescents and adults, and pregnant women. However, recognizing the prevalence of genital herpes infection, coupled with the fact that the condition can persist without symptoms, the Task Force encourages individuals who are sexually active to practice safer sex with their sexual partner(s) and assess their own risk of infection with every partner. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: More research is needed to develop a cure for genital herpes infection and to find ways to prevent genital herpes infection through a vaccine. In addition, there are many areas in which the Task Force calls for more research to better understand the detection and management of genital herpes simplex virus infection without signs or symptoms. Some of these areas include the development of screening and diagnostic tests with higher specificity and that detect both asymptomatic HSV-1 and HSV-2 genital infections; more data on the potential harms of screening asymptomatic people, including psychological distress and disruption of relationships; and research on behavioral interventions to reduce the transmission of genital HSV infection. Is there anything else you would like to add:

Response: People who have signs or symptoms of genital herpes infection, or who have a partner who has been diagnosed with herpes, should speak with their primary care physician about diagnosis and treatment options, especially if they are pregnant or intend to become pregnant.


US Preventive Services Task Force. Serologic Screening for Genital Herpes InfectionUS Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA. 2016;316(23):2525-2530. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16776

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on December 22, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD