Genital Herpes Still Most Common STD, Unacceptable says CDC
New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this week indicates that genital herpes remains the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States, affecting one in six Americans between the ages of 14 and 49.
About 19 million people are affected with herpes simplex virus type 2, the virus that causes most of the cases of genital herpes. Overall the rate is declining. Between 2005 and 2008, 16% of Americans were infected compared to 17% between 1999 and 2004.
The most likely to be affected are women and African-Americans. HSV-2 prevalence is nearly twice as high among women than men because the genital tissue is more vulnerable to small tears. African-Americans have three times the number of cases than whites.
Obviously, the risk increases with age and multiple sex partners. Among teens, the prevalence of genital herpes is around 1.4% which increases to 26.1% for those aged 40-49. Of those with one lifetime sex partner, about 4% are diagnosed with HSV-2 compared to 27% of those who report having 10 or more partners.
Research also shows that people with genital herpes are two to three times more likely to acquire HIV, as the immunologic response at the site where the herpes ulcers form can act as a target for HIV infection, even after the ulcers have healed. For this reason, those with both herpes and HIV are more likely to transmit both viruses to others, especially during flare-ups.
The CDC estimates that nearly four out of five people who have genital herpes have not been diagnosed and may not know they have the infection. Women, for example, may mistake symptoms such as genital burning and itching for a vaginal yeast infection.
John M. Douglas, Jr. MD, the director of the CDC Division of STD Prevention said, “This latest analysis emphasizes that we can’t afford to be complacent about this infection. It is important that we promote the steps to prevent the spread of genital herpes.”
Dr. Douglas encourages sexually active teens and young adults to “Get Yourself Tested”, an STD educational campaign that is a partnership between the CDC, MTV, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. "Given everything we know about how to prevent, diagnose, and treat STDs, it is unacceptable that STDs remain such a widespread public health problem in the U.S. today," he says.
While there is no cure for genital herpes or HSV-2, several drugs are available to treat symptoms and outbreaks, including acyclovir (Zovirax) and valacyclovir (Valtrex).