Tags: Herpes | Epidemic | Still | Around | and | Spreading | Fast

Herpes Epidemic Still Around - and Spreading Fast

Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM

The prevalence of the disease was so widespread that personal ads from victims began appearing in newspapers seeking herpes victims of the opposite sex who would not be concerned about contacting the disease they already had.

But as the New York Times reports, herpes faded into near obscurity with the arrival of the AIDS epidemic. But despite lack of media and public interest, HSV-2 has continued to infect scores of new victims. Cases of the virus have skyrocketed by 30 percent since the late '70s, and an incredible one in five American adults and adolescents are infected with the incurable genital disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Moreover, as many as 90 percent of the 45 million Americans infected with the virus don’t know it because they might never have suffered from the genital lesions common in herpes infections. But, health experts warn, they can still spread the virus to sex partners.

What concerns health officials is the fact that because genital herpes can be transmitted even when there are no lesions or other obvious symptoms, the rate of infection could jump even higher than 30 percent if nothing is done. Even more frightening to health officials is the fact that there is growing evidence suggesting that the presence of genital herpes can promote the spread of HIV.

"The HIV-infected person with genital herpes is almost certainly more infectious, even if they're asymptomatic, and it's also true that someone with genital herpes who is exposed to HIV is more likely to get it," Dr. H. Hunter Handsfield, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the STD program for the department of public health in Seattle and King County, explained to the Times.

There are three antiviral drugs that have proved capable of minimizing the severity of outbreaks. The Times says that many doctors are now recommending so-called suppressive therapy, the long-term daily use of an antiviral agent to prevent outbreaks and reduce the likelihood of transmission.

Curtis Phinney, a federal research scientist, told the Times he had controlled his outbreaks with such suppressive therapy. He added that being open with women he was dating about his condition actually helped him in his search for an appropriate mate. "People have to be serious about wanting to pursue a relationship with you to stay through something like this," he said.

A majority of Americans are infected with HSV-1, the virus that causes almost all cases of oral herpes (cold sores) and is often acquired during childhood. Although HSV-2 rarely causes oral herpes, about 20 percent to 40 percent of new genital infections arise from HSV-1, with oral sex being a major means of transmission, Dr. Handsfield said.

The symptoms of the disease vary widely, one reason why many people do not realize the prevalence of genital herpes. Some people experience no symptoms whatsoever. In other cases, the signs of an outbreak go almost unnoticed minor itching, a slight rash or a tingling sensation that the person has never associated with herpes.

Between outbreaks, the virus lurks hidden somewhere in the body’s tissues - one reason why no way of killing the virus has been found.

According to the Times, some health care professionals think the virus is transmitted only from open lesions only present during outbreaks. But the fact is that the virus can be present on the skin or mucous membranes during asymptomatic or mild outbreaks and lead to infection of a partner. Health experts say that while condoms offer substantial protection they are not anywhere near 100 percent effective.

The American Social Health Association (www.ashastd.org), which distributes information about sexually transmitted diseases, sponsors support groups for people with genital herpes and operates the National Herpes Hotline at (877) 411-HERPES.

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The prevalence of the disease was so widespread that personal ads from victims began appearing in newspapers seeking herpes victims of the opposite sex who would not be concerned about contacting the disease they already had. But as the New York Times reports, herpes...
Herpes,Epidemic,Still,Around,and,Spreading,Fast
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2001-00-09
Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM
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