There has been a recent increase in notifications of genital herpes but it is not known whether this has been reflected in the pregnant population. We have therefore carried out a study to determine the prevalence of herpes simplex antibodies in pregnant women and to estimate the incidence of primary infection. Sera were collected from 3533 women at antenatal clinics and tested for total antibodies to herpes simples virus (HSV), and if positive, for specific antibodies to HSV-2. Estimates of HSV-1 seroprevalence were derived from the HSV-2 seronegative population. HSV-1 seroprevalence was nearly 100% in black women born in Africa or the Caribbean and 60-80% in white, Asian and UK born black women. It was lower in women in non-manual employment. HSV-2 seroprevalence was related to age, rising from 0 at age 16 to 40% at age 35 in black women, and to about 10% in Asian and white women. The estimated incidence of primary HSV-2 infection during pregnancy, per 1000 pregnancies, was about 2.4 in Asian women, 5 in white women, and 20 in black women. Estimates of the incidence of neonatal infection were derived from these figures and compared to the nationally reported rates.
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