Herpes has been in the news recently, as a new CDC study was published in March that caused a bit of a media stir. Two main findings emerged from this study:
-One is that approximately 1 in 6 Americans is "infected" with HSV2. "Infection" simply means that someone has been exposed to the virus. Many people with antibodies to either herpes virus (HSV1 or HSV2) do not have outbreaks and don't know that they are infected, although they can still transmit the virus to others.
-The second finding is that there is a major discrepancy in prevalence when one looks at gender and race. Women are twice as likely to be infected as men, and black women are three times as likely to be infected as white women.
As is so often the case, I wonder where the other races are in these findings.
Other things to note:
-This CDC study did not address HSV1 at all. HSV1 is the type of herpes that prefers to reside in the area of the mouth. It causes what we call cold sores. It is also very happy taking up residence around the genital area, although outbreaks in that area tend to be less severe, less frequent, and the virus is less likely to be shed from that area.
-These findings are largely the same as those from the last such study, from approximately 5 years ago.
Here is the original press release from the CDC:
CDC Study Re Herpes (HSV2)
The discrepancy in prevalence based on race was of course the part that caused some controversy, especially in the African-American press. Here is a piece in The Root which questions the statistical sampling, as well as the meaning of the findings:
Reply in the Root to CDC Study
In related news, the New York Times "Consults" blog has been running a series about herpes in recent months. Here is a link to the post about transmission, with links to related posts below the main piece:
"Giving Your Partner Herpes" in the NY Times
And here is the NY Times main guide to herpes:
Times Guide to Herpes
Herpes is as prevalent as it is because (a) it's a quiet virus - many carriers don't know they have it and (b) people don't know much about it, or how it's spread. Much of the ignorance is due to the stigma that is attached to herpes. This is stupid. With up to half of some American populations, and approximately 16% of the general population, infected with HSV2, it's beyond time to grow up and treat this virus as we do any other virus. The more you know about herpes, the better your chance of avoiding it, or of giving it to someone else.