Herpes ‘Quietly Spreading’; Virus Doubles Risk of Acquiring HIV Through Unprotected Sex
Herpes, which was among the most feared sexually transmitted diseases in the early 1980s but has not gotten as much attention since then, has been "quietly spreading in the shadow of the AIDS onslaught," the Hartford Courant reports. About 45 million Americans have HSV-2, the herpes virus responsible for genital herpes, but most Americans who have the virus are unaware that they are infected due to a misdiagnosis or lack of symptoms, the Courant reports. The rising number of people with herpes concerns health officials for three reasons. First, the virus, which often manifests itself with open sores in the genital area, "at least doubles" a person's chance of acquiring HIV through unprotected sex, acting as an "invisible catalyst" in the HIV epidemic. Second, herpes can cause illness and even death in newborns born to infected women. Between one in 2,000 and one in 5,000 infants are exposed to herpes during birth each year and the incidence is rising, according to Dr. Lawrence Corey, head of the infectious disease program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Newborns who contract herpes from their mothers can develop infections of the brain and surrounding tissue, which can lead to mental retardation or death. If a pregnant woman is known to have herpes, an infant can be delivered by caesarean section to reduce its chances of being adversely affected. Finally, many people do not reveal their herpes status for fear of rejection. Others are fearful of sexual relationships and of getting pregnant. Although not curable, herpes outbreaks can be controlled with antiviral medications, and preventive measures can be taken to decrease the risk of vertical transmission (Condon, Hartford Courant, 9/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.