Prevalence of herpes in the U.S. is declining

The prevalence of herpes in the U.S. is declining, according to a study published in the Aug. 23 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters reports (Reuters, 8/22).

Herpes is treatable but incurable, according to the Washington Times.

Women with active herpes usually undergo caesarean-section deliveries to prevent transmitting the virus to their infants during delivery because genital herpes can be fatal for infants, the Times reports.

In addition, genital herpes can increase a person's susceptibility to HIV transmission.

The study -- which compares data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by CDC from 1988 through 1994 with research from NHANES conducted from 1999 through 2002 -- finds that the prevalence of herpes declined among people ages 14 to 49 between those time periods.

The survey conducted from 1988 through 1994 showed that 21% of 9,165 participants tested positive for herpes simplex virus type 2, compared with 17% of 11,508 participants in the more recent survey (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 8/23).

The overall decline of HSV-2 might be because of "unmeasured factors, such as careful partner selection, condom use, and/or choosing oral sex over vaginal sex," study author Fujie Xu of CDC said (Reuters, 8/22).

In addition, the study finds that the greatest decline in HSV-2 prevalence -- 5.8% to 1.6% -- is among teenagers (Washington Times, 8/23).

The decline among teens and young adults "provides biological evidence supporting findings from behavioral surveys that sexual risk behaviors decreased in adolescents," researchers wrote.

However, there are not enough questions in the survey about sexual habits to definitively explain the decrease, Xu said.

The study also finds that HSV-2 prevalence among blacks since the first survey decreased by 4% to 42% (Reuters, 8/22).

In addition, the researchers found that herpes simplex virus type 1 decreased from 62% to 58% but that genital herpes caused by HSV-1 might be rising (Washington Times, 8/23).

A rise in oral sex rates might explain the increasing HSV-1 genital herpes rates, according to the researchers (Reuters, 8/22).

"Overall, this is good news," Xu said, adding "There is a decrease occurring in all youth, males and females, and in all racial groups" (Johnson, AP/Globe and Mail, 8/22).


Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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