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Genital herpes frequently reactivates on both sides of the body

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new but small study shows that genital herpes frequently reactivates throughout the genital tract. The findings were previously unknown and have implications for the treatment of genital herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Christine Johnston, MD, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle sampled separate genital sites in four women infected with HSV-2 over a 30 day period. The HSV2 virus was found more than half of the time from more than one site from shedding of the herpes virus.

Herpes reactivation was frequently seen on both sides of the body throughout the genital tract during symptoms and even when symptoms were absent.

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Genital herpes treatment has been focused on treating single lesions, making the study important for understanding how to curb the spread of herpes and treat existing infections.

Another recent study showed that even healed genital herpes can increase the chances of HIV infection. The findings were published August 2009 in the journal Nature Medicine, showing that healed genital herpes provides a favorable environment for the HIV virus to attach.

According to the CDC, genital herpes affect 45 million people over age 12 in the United
States. Genital herpes can be transmitted even when there is no apparent lesion. Some individuals are not aware they have been infected with herpes, making the spread difficult to control. Genital herpes is spread through sexual contact. Using condoms can reduce the chances of spreading and contracting herpes.

The new study gives new insights into understanding how genital herpes reactivates throughout the genital tract. The findings should lead to new treatment and prevention of genital herpes pending further studies.