Prevalence of human herpesviruses infections in nonmalignant tonsils: The SPLIT study

for the SPLIT study group

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Objective: To assess the prevalence of all known human herpesviruses (HHV) in tonsils of an age-stratified large sample of immunocompetent children and adults. Methods: Patients undergoing tonsillectomy for benign indications were recruited in 19 French hospitals. After resection, the entire outer surfaces of right and left half tonsils were extensively brushed. A highly sensitive species-specific multiplex assay was used to detect herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1), HSV2, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV; types 1 and 2), and human cytomegalovirus (CMV) DNA in 688, as well as varicella zoster virus (VZV), HHV6A, HHV6B, HHV7, and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) DNA in a subset of 440 tonsil brushings. Results: Overall 85% of tonsil brushing samples were infected with at least one HHV species. HHV7 and EBV were the most prevalent (≈70%), followed by HHV6B (≈50%), HSV1, CMV, VZV (≈2%), and KSHV and HSV2 (<1%), while HHV6A was not detected. EBV prevalence was significantly higher in adults than in children, whereas it was opposite for HHV6B and VZV. No difference in HHV prevalence was observed by sex. In multivariate analysis, EBV detection was associated with age greater than or equal to 15 years (prevalence ratio [PR] = 1.8; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.5-2.3) and marginally with tobacco smoking (PR = 1.2; 95% CI: 1.1-1.3). Conclusion: Differing patterns of HHV infection in tonsils in a large age-stratified population were described. This study is by far the largest available and shows that EBV, HHV6B, and HHV7 are commonly detected in the tonsils in both men and women, in contrast to other HHVs.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Virology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018


  • epidemiology
  • human herpesvirus
  • oropharynx
  • prevalence
  • tonsil brushing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Infectious Diseases


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