ATLANTA Approximately 1-in-6 Americans (16.2%) between the ages of 14 and 49 years is infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), according to a national health survey released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HSV-2 is a lifelong and incurable infection that can cause recurrent and painful genital sores.
The findings, presented at the 2010 National STD Prevention Conference, indicated that herpes remains one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.
The findings suggested relatively stable HSV-2 prevalence since CDC's last national estimate (17% for 1999-2004), because the slight decline in prevalence between the two time periods is not statistically significant.
The study found that women and blacks were most likely to be infected. HSV-2 prevalence was nearly twice as high among women (20.9%) than men (11.5%), and was more than three times higher among blacks (39.2%) than whites (12.3%). The most affected group was black women, with a prevalence rate of 48%.
"This study serves as a stark reminder that herpes remains a common and serious health threat in the United States,” stated Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "We are particularly concerned about persistent high rates of herpes among African-Americans, which is likely contributing to disproportionate rates of HIV in the black community."
Research shows that people with herpes are two to three times more likely to acquire HIV, and that herpes can also make HIV-infected individuals more likely to transmit HIV to others. CDC estimates that more than 80% of those with HSV-2 are unaware of their infection. Symptoms may be absent, mild, or mistaken for another condition. And people with HSV-2 can transmit the virus even when they have no visible sores or other symptoms.