| Herpes Rates Could Explode by 2025
-- Nearly half of all young American women could suffer from genital
herpes by the year 2025 if nothing more is done to stem the disease's
spread, a new study contends.
As for young men, a group
of U.S. and Canadian epidemiologists is estimating they won't
be much better off than their female counterparts. In less than
three decades, 39 percent of males aged 15 to 39 could have herpes,
the researchers predict.
Besides the costs in
medical care and personal suffering, such an increase in herpes
could also exacerbate other health threats, says Dr. Michael Horberg,
an authority on sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
"The presence of
herpes causes inflammation, and increases your risk of contracting
other STDs like HIV," he says.
While herpes gets only
a fraction of the attention of potentially deadly STDs such as
AIDS and syphilis, it is much more common. An estimated 22 percent
of adult Americans are infected with a genital strain known as
herpes simplex virus type 2.
In the most serious cases,
the disease can cause spinal problems and brain swelling. "Needless
to say, it's very painful," Horberg adds.
Herpes can be especially
risky for women. "The big concern is if they have active
herpes during pregnancy," Horberg says. "They can pass
it to the baby during delivery, and it can cause blindness and
Drugs usually can suppress
the herpes virus during outbreaks, but those infected can become
contagious before they notice the lesions that come during outbreaks,
In the new study, the
epidemiologists developed a mathematical formula to estimate how
the herpes epidemic among heterosexuals will evolve over the next
The findings appear in
the October issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
The researchers estimate
that 49 percent of women aged 15 to 39 will be infected with herpes
simplex virus type 2 by 2025 if present trends continue. The associated
medical costs would rise to $2.7 billion in 2025, from $1.8
billion in 2000.
The researchers' predictions
could indeed come to pass, but figuring out the trajectory of
a disease is tricky business, says Frank Myers, an epidemiologist
at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego who was not involved in
For example, some health
experts in the 1980s predicted the rates of tuberculosis in the
United States would level off or increase slightly if prevention
budgets were cut. However, tuberculosis rates actually skyrocketed
as HIV entered the picture and made thousands of people more vulnerable
to the disease, Myers says.
In another example, experts
predicted the HIV epidemic would keep growing rapidly, but they
didn't anticipate that gay men would adopt safer sex practices,
Herpes can't be cured,
so it seems logical that it would keep increasing, Myers says,
"but the authors and I could be wrong."
Regardless of the trends
in herpes infection, sexually active Americans can prevent getting
the disease by wearing condoms or insisting on their use and by
avoiding sex with people who have active lesions, Horberg says.
He adds that people with herpes should avoid sex during outbreaks
to prevent spreading their infection.
What To Do
Learn more about herpes
from the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The American
Herpes Foundation, supported by drug companies, has information
Reference Source 101