Globally, Two out of Three under 50 Have Oral Herpes Virus

By Pugh, Tony | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, October 29, 2015 | Go to article overview

Globally, Two out of Three under 50 Have Oral Herpes Virus


Pugh, Tony, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


WASHINGTON -- Nearly seven in 10 people under age 50 -- more than 3.7 billion teens and adults worldwide -- are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1, a highly infectious and incurable disease, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday.

More than 1 billion people are infected with HSV-1 in the Western Pacific region, while Southeast Asia has nearly 1 billion cases, according to WHO's first global estimates, published Wednesday in an article in the journal PLOS ONE.

More than 700 million people are infected in Africa, nearly 400 million in Europe and 320 million in North and South America.

Known as "oral herpes" and typically spread through kissing, oral sex and the use of shared objects like eating utensils, HSV-1 typically causes cold sores around the mouth. But it can also cause genital herpes, which leads to painful blisters and ulcers in the anal and genital areas.

Although most cases of genital herpes are caused by herpes simplex virus type 2, which is transmitted almost entirely through sexual activity, "we know that increasingly HSV-1 is showing up in genital infections, and that's sort of a trend that public health folks are watching," said Fred Wyand, communications director at the American Sexual Health Association in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

About 140 million people worldwide between ages 15 and 49 have an HSV-1 genital infection, WHO reported.

Worldwide, some 417 million people ages 15 to 49 have the HSV-2 infection.

"The new estimates highlight the crucial need for countries to improve data collection for both HSV types and sexually transmitted infections in general," said Dr. Marleen Temmerman, director of WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research.

Wyand said the new numbers come as no surprise to public health officials. He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 54 percent of Americans carry the virus.

After infection through oral secretions or skin sores, the oral herpes virus settles in nerve tissue at the top of the spine, while genital herpes sets up shop in the base of the spine. …

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