American Social Health Association Marks STD Awareness Month With Campaign on Herpes
The American Social Health Association this month commemorates STD Awareness Month with a herpes awareness campaign, titled "Herpes. Spread the Word. Not the Virus." Nearly one million new infections occur annually, and 20% of Americans over the age of 12 have genital herpes. However up to 90% of those infected are not aware that they have the virus. Herpes can have "serious consequences" for infants born to infected women and may facilitate HIV transmission. Charlie Ebel, senior director of program development at ASHA and author of the third edition of "Managing Herpes," to be released this month, said the focus of ASHA's awareness campaign, which will use radio ads and herpes-related messages on both the organization's main Web site and its site directed at adolescents, is to decrease the stigma associated with the disease. "We want the one in five Americans infected with genital herpes to know that they are not alone. It's time to spread the word and decrease the stigma," he said.
A 'Scarlet Letter'
Ebel noted that herpes was regarded as "the equivalent of a 'Scarlet Letter'" by a Time magazine story 20 years ago (ASHA release, 3/25). On Aug. 2, 1982, Time ran a cover story on the disease, which the magazine said had "emerged from relative obscurity and exploded into a full-fledged epidemic." Time reported that two decades of "sexual permissiveness" had allowed herpes to "cut swiftly through the ranks of the sexually active," leaving 20 million Americans infected, with nearly half a million new cases being recorded each year. The staggering number of new cases at the time was "altering sexual rites in America, changing courtship patterns ... and delivering a numbing blow to the one-night stand," according to Time. The magazine noted that although other diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis could do more harm, no other disease "altered so much basic behavior so quickly." The magazine said that the incurability of herpes was the main reason behind the change. Time noted that herpes even curbed affairs outside of a monogamous relationship because people feared contracting herpes and then passing it on or having to explain the infection to their partner. The disease was especially feared and sometimes referred to as "the VD of the Ivy League and Jerry Falwell's revenge," largely because it seemed to strike "nice, healthy, educated, clean-cut Caucasians," the magazine reported. Time noted that blacks and the poor also got herpes but were "unlikely to turn up" in herpes surveys (Leo, Time, 8/2/82). The AIDS epidemic, which was just beginning when the Time article appeared, has overshadowed the herpes threat, but ASHA hopes its campaign will draw renewed attention to the disease (ASHA release, 3/25). Information from the CDC on STDs is available online.