Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) found that more than one in 10 people in Asia are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), yet prevalence is declining by 2% every year.

The study was conducted by the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group (IDEG) at WCM-Q and WHO Collaborating Center for Disease Epidemiology Analytics on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections, to address one of the goals of WHO’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Sexually Transmitted Infections. The study provided the first detailed characterisation of HSV-2 epidemiology in Asia, including the WHO regions of Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

Writing in the prestigious journal Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific, the researchers said the virus was more common in women than men.

WCM-Q researcher and joint first author of the study Sawsan Al Mukdad said they applied state-of-the-art methodologies to assess the HSV-2 epidemiology in Asia.

We found that approximately one in every 10 individuals (12%) is infected with HSV-2 in Asia, but the prevalence is declining by 2% annually. Prevalence increased gradually from 5% in people under 20 years of age, to 27% in those over 60, but women have a 70% higher prevalence rate compared to men.

HSV-2 infection is a globally prevalent sexually transmitted infection, which can cause irritation and ulcers in the pelvic region. It is also linked to an increased risk of HIV acquisition and transmission.

WCM-Q senior researcher and joint first author of the study Manale Harfouche said that HSV-2 infection was found to be the cause of 48% of cases where patients present with ulcers in the pelvic region and 76% of genital herpes cases, highlighting the disease burden caused by this infection in Asia.

Our findings fill a gap in our understanding of HSV-2 infection in the global context and provide insights into its epidemiology in this region with implications for global epidemiology.

WCM-Q professor and principal investigator of the study Dr Laith Abu-Raddad, in conclusion, said that in the context of there being no public health programmes targeted to prevent and control HSV-2 transmission, the infection is widespread, with serious disease consequences. He said there is a need to expand and broaden HSV-2 research and surveillance and to accelerate ongoing efforts to develop HSV-2 vaccines.

The study, entitled Epidemiology of herpes simplex virus type 2 in Asia: A systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression, was conducted with funding from Qatar National Research Fund through the National Priorities Research Program and by pilot funding from the Biomedical Research Program at WCM-Q.

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