You may never know who may be infected, as around 3.7 billion worldwide people have herpes and not all of them present with outside symptoms.
- Around 3.7 billion people, or 67%, around the world have one type of herpes
- HSV-1 causes the familiar “cold sores”, while HSV-2 causes genital herpes
- Genital herpes, or HSV-2, may lead to increased risk of HIV
- In 2012, 178 million women and 142 million men in the U.S. presented with HSV-1
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a global assessment on the rate of two types of herpes virus. Researchers studied the frequency of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both diseases are more common than previously believed, and as it turns out, one can lead to the other.
While HSV-1 causes orolabial herpes (cold sores) around the mouth, HSV-2 causes genital herpes, which is easily transmitted through intercourse. However, research found that the latter, more often overlooked HSV-1, may ultimately lead to HSV-2 and present with increased risk of becoming infected with HIV.
According to Dr. Marleen Temmerman, from WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, both are “highly infectious and incurable”. The unfortunate fact that hinders research is that herpes does not always cause symptoms or any sort of sign for a majority of the population. In fact, most of them are never aware they are carrying the virus.
This may lead to further spreading, especially for HSV-1, transmitted through simple mouth-to-mouth contact or kissing. It may be recognized as a condition that developed during childhood for some, and then never reappeared again. However, it never truly goes away. While it may not present itself, antibodies found in blood proved otherwise.
According to their tests, WHO has found that 67% of the world’s population under 50 years old has one type of herpes virus. Among them, 417 million have HSV-2, or genital herpes. Interestingly enough, it’s much more common in well developed countries and rich nations. In the United States, 49% of women and 39% of men present with HSV-1.
The incredibly high numbers have raised alarms for better awareness campaigns against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but also for a possible solutions. There are no vaccines to prevent it or ones that would completely treat herpes. It’s one of the major concerns that the organization means to tackle next.
According to Sami Gottlieb, a medical officer for WHO, there is a need to accelerate the development of proper methods to combat all herpes simplex viruses. The simple fact that HSV-1, which is very common, can turn into HSV-2, is severely worrying.
Partnerships have formed in order to develop new ways to either prevent or fully treat the virus infection. It would first require study to understand which action would be more appropriate, considering symptoms don’t always occur. Regardless, WHO is working on a solution, and will be presenting new strategies against the disease in 2016, at their annual World Health Assembly.
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