Genital Herpes Vaccine Study Offers Hope for Women and African Americans
genital herpes vaccine study recently shows that people suffering from the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) may see an effective therapy in the near future. This news is particularly of importance in serving the medical needs of women and African Americans who are nationally disproportionately afflicted with genital herpes.
Genital Herpes (HSV-2) Numbers
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one in every 6 Americans (16.2% of the population) carries the herpes simplex type 2 virus responsible for genital herpes. Genital herpes is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) more commonly causes “fever blisters” around the mouth and lips, but can also cause genital herpes when passed via oral to genital or genital to genital contact when one of the sexual partners carries an HSV-1 infection.
Ulcerations from the herpes virus begin as tender blisters that eventually break and become painful sores that may take up to two to four weeks to heal. There is no cure for genital herpes and recurrence of outbreaks of sores will appear randomly weeks to months apart. Treatment is typically limited to anti-viral medications to lessen the effects of an outbreak.
The first outbreak of sores generally occurs within two weeks following the initial infection by a sexual partner. When outbreaks are mild, the majority of people infected with HSV-2 are not aware that they are infected and may mistake small sores erupting as insect bites or a skin condition related to an allergic reaction. Other signs and symptoms of infection may include flu-like symptoms such as swollen glands and a low-grade fever. Diagnosis is made by visual inspection, testing of a sample from an open sore and blood tests between outbreaks in suspected cases.
An estimate from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) determined that women and African Americans were the most likely to be infected with HSV-2. Infection by HSV-2 is almost twice as high in women (20.9%) than men (11.5%) and was more than three times as high among African Americans (39.2%) than Caucasians (12.3%). The highest affected population is black women at 48 percent.
According to a statement by Kevin Fenton, M.D., director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, "This study [NHANES] serves as a stark reminder that herpes remains a common and serious health threat in the United States. Everyone should be aware of the symptoms, risk factors, and steps that can be taken to prevent the spread of this lifelong and incurable infection," he said. "We are particularly concerned about persistent high rates of herpes among African-Americans, which is likely contributing to disproportionate rates of HIV in the black community."
Genital Herpes (HSV-2) Vaccine Study
In back-to-back articles published in the journal Vaccine, researcher Dr. Pramod Srivastava director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center located at the University of Connecticut Health Center, describes both animal and human clinical studies that tests the effectiveness of a new therapeutic vaccine called “HerpV.” Positive results from both studies leads the authors of the paper to believe that a safe and effective vaccine for treating genital herpes is possible via enhanced CD-4 and CD-8 T cell proliferation due to the vaccine.
The HerpV vaccine is based on a heat shock protein (HSP) technology developed by Dr. Srivastava in earlier studies toward developing a cancer vaccine called “Oncophage.” Heat shock proteins are a class of proteins that alters the folding and unfolding of other proteins. Past research has shown that heat shock proteins are an important part of the immune system in recognizing and destroying diseased cells.
According to a University of Connecticut news release—Dr. Srivastava states that heat shock proteins can be used for immunization against, and treatment of, a wide array of diseases: “This work has been pursued thus far mostly in cancers. The work published in Vaccine provides the first solid demonstration of the application of the HSP platform for treatment of viral infections in humans.” “This is the most promising of all immunological approaches that have been attempted thus far for therapy of genital herpes,” he says.
The HerpV vaccine is under production by the company Agenus, which is a maker of therapeutic vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases.