by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 16 percent of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 are infected with genital herpes, making it one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S.
According to a report by WebMD, about 19 million Americans are infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the sexually transmitted virus that causes most genital herpes, costing the health care system $16 billion per year.
The new estimates come from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a nationally representative survey of U.S. households covering a wide range of health issues.
According to the latest findings:
1) Women are twice as likely to be infected (21 percent) than men (11 percent)
2) The rate among African-American women is 48 percent
3) The infection rate was about four percent among people who reported having only one sex partner, but that number leaped to 27 percent for those reported 10 or more partners.
4) Nearly four out of five people who have genital herpes have not been diagnosed and may not know they have the infection
“This latest analysis emphasizes that we can’t afford to be complacent about this infection,” John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, who directs the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a news conference Tuesday at the 2010 National STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta.
“It is important that we promote steps to prevent the spread of genital herpes, not only because herpes is a lifelong and incurable infection, but also because of the linkage between herpes and HIV infection.”
Research shows that people with genital herpes are two to three times more likely to acquire HIV and they are also more likely to transmit HIV infection to others.
Douglas also explained that the reason women have higher rates of herpes infection than men is because their genital tissue is more vulnerable to the small tears that make transmission more likely. Herpes may also be more difficult to diagnose in women because they often mistake the burning and itching sensations of herpes for a yeast infection.
At the present time, the CDC is not recommending routine screening for genital herpes, but people who are at high risk of transmitting the disease, such as people with multiple sex partners, gay and/or bisexual men and people who are HIV positive, should be tested.
There is currently no cure for herpes, however, treatments that lessen the severity of, or prevent, outbreaks is available.
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