Background: Although genital herpes (HSV-2) is highly prevalent, antibody testing is not common. Therefore, many HSV-2 seropositive individuals are unaware of their infection and may be responsible for a large proportion of new infections.
Objectives: To evaluate the acceptability of a community-based HSV-2 screening program for at-risk women and understand factors relating to uptake of point-of-care testing for genital herpes.
Methods: Recently arrested women were recruited from a court handling lower-level misdemeanor cases in Indianapolis, Indiana. Participants completed a survey assessing factors related to HSV-2 screening intentions, were compensated $20 for participation, and were offered optional HSV-2 testing for $10.
Results: A diverse sample of 48 women 18-57 years old (mean=34) have participated in this ongoing study. Over the last 90 days, respondents had 1-11 sexual partners (median=2) and 54% reported never using condoms. Knowledge regarding HSV-2 prevention and treatment was high, however 75% did not believe they were at risk for infection. Of 34 women who received a routine health screen in the last 36 months, 97% reported getting a Pap test suggesting an interest in women’s healthcare services. However, 79% (38/48) had no intention of getting tested for HSV-2 and only 1 participant accepted testing. Reasons for not testing included: recently receiving STD screens and believing they knew their HSV-2 serostatus (27%), not being at risk for infection (25%), cost (21%), and time (17%).
Conclusions: This group of women at high risk for HSV-2 infection was largely not willing to be tested at a cost of $10 despite recently accessing women’s healthcare services (Pap test) and having considerable knowledge about herpes.
Implications for Programs, Policy, and/or Research: There are widespread misconceptions about STD screening and a potential discrepancy between knowledge, health beliefs, and behaviors. Further research is needed in order to create interventions that encourage herpes testing in this high-risk population.