‘Growing Evidence’ that Genital Herpes May Ease HIV Transmission, New York Times Reports
After the emergence of HIV "eclipsed" concerns about the herpes virus, public health officials are "once more sounding the alarm" about the "rapid spread" of the virus, the New York Times reports. Cases of herpes simplex virus 2, which accounts for most cases of genital herpes, have risen by 30% since the 1970s, with more than 20% of American adolescents and adults infected with the virus. Between 80% and 90% of people carrying the virus are not aware of it, as many never develop genital lesions associated with the infection. And as genital herpes can be transmitted even in absence of symptoms, public health officials are concerned that the infection rate could "surge well past 30%" if prevention measures are not taken. In addition, there is "growing evidence" that genital herpes can facilitate HIV transmission. Dr. Hunter Handsfield, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the director of the STD program for Seattle's King County department of health, said, "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."
Officials Disagree on Preventive Measures
While blood tests that diagnose HSV 2 infections are "widely available," health care professionals "disagree over their use." Most agree that high-risk pregnant women should be tested, as the virus can be fatal to newborns "in the rare instances when it is passed on during birth." However, among adults in general, genital herpes "can be far less serious, leading some officials to wonder if it is worthwhile to institute widespread testing and counseling." "Many" doctors are now recommending "suppressive therapy," which involves daily, long term use of an antiviral drug to "prevent outbreaks and reduce the likelihood of transmission." The CDC is developing guidelines on "how best to address" the spread of the virus through testing "and other means" (Tuller, New York Times, 5/8).