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Researching HHV-6 Infection in Pregnant and Non-pregnant Women

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By Baillargeon J, Piper J, Leach CT • • April 12, 2000

"Epidemiology of human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) infection in pregnant and nonpregnant women," J Clin Virol 2000 May 1; 16(3):149-157. Departments of Pediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, 7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX, USA

SUMMARY: Women with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may have special concerns regarding the interplay between human herpesvirus-6 (HHV-6), CFS and reproduction-related health concerns. In this study, researchers sought to glean more information about HHV-6 infection in women of childbearing years. The study sampled 569 women, ages 18-45. Of these women, 345 were pregnant and 224 were not. The researchers used blood and vaginal swabs, and gathered sociodemographic information. Their blood and vaginal swabs were tested for HHV-6 antibodies and HHV-6 DNA, respectively.

Benign conditions, such as febrile syndromes and roseola in infants, are known to bear a connection to HHV-6. But because current research suggests that HHV-6 may be implicated in chronic fatigue syndrome, in addition to the conditions mentioned in this study, readers may be interested to discover that 100% of the women volunteers tested positive for HHV-6 infection. Nonpregnant women measured a higher amount of HHV-6 antibodies than pregnant -- and they possessed this antibody in larger percentage. (These findings held true even after adjusting for sociodemographic and clinical factors.) Low rates of HHV-6 shedding in the genital tract were observed for both groups. One further finding was that the HHV-6 subtype A was identified more commonly than has been reported by previous studies.

What are the implications of these findings? The researchers in this study stop short of drawing definite conclusions regarding maternal infection, stating instead that more studies are needed.

>ABSTRACT: Background: Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) is a ubiquitous virus primarily associated with benign conditions such as febrile syndromes and exanthem subitum (roseola infantum). Sexual, horizontal, and vertical transmission have been suggested. Little information is available regarding HHV-6 infection in women of reproductive age. Objective: Describe epidemiology of HHV-6 infection in pregnant and nonpregnant women. Study design: The study sample consisted of 569 women, age 18-45, who attended a university family planning clinic (nonpregnant, n=224) and two obstetrics clinics (pregnant [first trimester], n=345) in San Antonio, TX between October 1995 and May 1998. Blood and a vaginal swab, as well as sociodemographic information, were collected from each participant. Plasma was tested for HHV-6 IgG antibodies using a standard immunofluorescence assay (IFA). Lysed material from vaginal swabs was tested for HHV-6 DNA by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Products were screened by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and positive tests were confirmed by repeat PCR followed by Southern analysis. PCR-positive samples were subtyped using an established method. Results: All subjects were HHV-6 antibody positive. Geometric mean titers of HHV-6 antibodies were significantly higher among nonpregnant versus pregnant women. Moreover, a higher proportion of nonpregnant versus pregnant women had antibody titers >/=160 and >/=320. This association persisted even after adjusting for a number of sociodemographic and clinical factors. Low rates of HHV-6 shedding in the genital tract were observed for both groups (pregnant, 7/297 [2.0%]; nonpregnant, 8/214 [3.7%]). Of 14 samples subtyped, four (29%) were subtype A. Conclusion: The present study showed that 100% of the study sample was infected with HHV-6. Higher HHV-6 antibody titers, however, were noted in nonpregnant women. Both groups shed virus at low rates in the genital tract. HHV-6 subtype A was identified more commonly than previously reported. Further longitudinal studies are required to assess the consequences of maternal HHV-6 infection.

Source: PubMed

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