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BACKGROUND: Infection with human herpesvirus 8 (HHV-8) has been consistently linked to Kaposi's sarcoma, but its mode of transmission, association with other cancers, and interaction with the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) are largely unknown. METHODS: Between January 1992 and December 1997, we interviewed 3591 black patients with cancer in Johannesburg and Soweto, South Africa. Blood was tested for antibodies against HIV-1 and HHV-8 in 3344 of the patients. Antibodies against HHV-8 were detected with an indirect immunofluorescence assay. The intensity of the fluorescent signal correlated well with the titers of antibodies (P<0.001). The relations among the presence of anti-HHV-8 antibodies, sociodemographic and behavioral factors, type of cancer, and the presence or absence of coexistent HIV infection were examined with the use of unconditional logistic-regression models. RESULTS: Among the 3293 subjects with cancers other than Kaposi's sarcoma, the standardized seroprevalence of antibodies against HHV-8 was 32 percent, which did not differ significantly from the standardized seroprevalence among black blood donors. Among these 3293 patients, the prevalence of antibodies against HHV-8 increased with increasing age (P<0.001) and an increasing number of sexual partners (P=0.05) and decreased with increasing years of education (P=0.007); it was not strongly associated with HIV-1 infection. Anti-HHV-8 antibodies were more frequent among black than white blood donors (P<0.001). Among the 51 patients with Kaposi's sarcoma, the standardized seroprevalence of antibodies against HHV-8 was 83 percent, significantly higher than the prevalence among those without Kaposi's sarcoma (P<0.001). For 16 other specific types of cancer, including multiple myeloma (108 cases) and prostate cancer (202 cases), the variation in the standardized seroprevalence of antibodies against HHV-8 was not remarkable. At a given intensity of fluorescence of anti-HHV-8 antibodies, Kaposi's sarcoma was more frequent among HIV-1-positive patients than among those who were HIV-1-negative (P<0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Among black patients with cancer in South Africa, the seroprevalence of anti-HHV-8 antibodies is high and is specifically associated with Kaposi's sarcoma, particularly at high titers.

Original publication




Journal article


N Engl J Med

Publication Date





1863 - 1871


Adolescent, Adult, African Continental Ancestry Group, Age Distribution, Aged, Antibodies, Viral, Comorbidity, Female, HIV Antibodies, HIV Infections, HIV-1, Herpesvirus 8, Human, Humans, Logistic Models, Male, Middle Aged, Neoplasms, Sarcoma, Kaposi, Seroepidemiologic Studies, Socioeconomic Factors, South Africa