Rates of herpes simplex virus keratitis (HSVK) in the United States have increased 1.7-fold from 2004 to 2016, according to a Michigan-based research team. The epidemiology of the corneal infection is not well understood, but it can involve severe eye pain, corneal scarring and even potential blindness. The researchers looked into the incidence of the disease and its demographic variations for potential prevention clues. They will present their findings tomorrow at ARVO 2019 in Vancouver.

In an analysis of 21 million claims across the United States, they found the rates (per 100,000 person) were highest among Caucasian patients (32.9) and lower among African Americans (29.9), Latinos (22.9) and Asian Americans (21.7). They also noted that, while the difference was not significant, females (35.1) had slightly higher incidence rates than males (33.9). Also, patients older than age 15 were more likely to develop the condition.

The “underlying differences in unexplored biologic mechanisms in community exposure and immunologic response across demographic groups may also help explain these differences in age and ethnic groups,” according to Joseph Shovlin, OD, of Northeastern Eye Institute in Scranton, PA. “Clinicians should always be vigilant since HSVK is the great masquerader and should be part of the differential diagnosis when corneal findings are unconfirmed. Remember that patients will not always present with an antecedent history of HSVK,” he adds.

Talwar N, Stein J, Shekhawat N. Demographic and temporal variation in incidence of herpes simplex virus keratitis in the United States. ARVO 2019. Abstract 6508 - A0094.