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A scarce number of studies have been carried out to determine the epidemiology of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection in female sex workers (FSWs). The objective of this study was to examine the correlates of infection for HSV-2 with socioeconomic and demographic characteristics, sexual behaviour and history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among FSWs in Mexico City. A sample frame of commercial sex work sites was constructed during the fall of 1992. Sites identified were streets, bars and massage parlours. During 1993 we surveyed 757 FSWs aged 18-76 years, from a random sample of sites. Participating women provided a blood sample and answered a standardized questionnaire. HSV-2 antibodies were identified based on a Western blot assay, using type-specific recombinant glycoprotein gG2. In a multivariate analysis, the presence of HSV-2 antibodies was correlated (P < 0.005) with increasing age and time working as prostitutes, low education, street working site and positive serology for syphilis. The results showed that the working site and the education level are contextual variables related to the risk of HSV-2 infection, where poorly educated and street FSWs had the highest probability of infection. Characteristics that represent periods of exposure to the virus as age and time working in prostitution were predictors of the HSV-2 infection.