by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
(June 11, 2008) A new report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reveals that one in four (26 percent) of adults living in New York City are infected with genital herpes, an incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD).
The data comes from the city’s Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which conducts door-to-door interviews and in-person medical exams to assess the health of New Yorkers on a variety of measures, from diabetes to depression, according to the department. However, this was the first time the city measured the number of inhabitants who were infected with herpes.
Nationally, 19 percent of the population is infected with herpes, making the New York City rate of 26 percent a significantly higher rate of infection.
Specifically, the study showed that the rate is higher among women than men – 36 percent compared to 19 percent. It was also higher among blacks than whites – 49 percent versus 14 percent.
It also found the rate was higher among gay men than heterosexual men – 32 percent compared to 18 percent.
“Genital herpes alone will not cause serious problems for most people,” said Dr. Julia Schillinger, Director of Surveillance for the Health Department’s Bureau of STD Prevention and Control and lead author of the study. “But some people will have painful genital sores and the infection fosters the spread of HIV. We advise New Yorkers to protect themselves and others. Using condoms consistently will help you avoid getting or spreading genital herpes.”
Condoms alone will not stop this epidemic, however. According to the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a non-partisan, non-sectarian medical research and education association, even if one uses condoms every time they have intercourse, they only cut their chances of infection in half. The virus can also be spread through oral and anal sex.
“Once you’re infected, you have it for life,” the Institute says in a published fact sheet. “If you don’t stay on medication, sores can keep coming back. Even if you have no symptoms, you can still spread the infection to others.”
Genital herpes is the most common viral STD and is caused by the herpes simplex virus. One in six people over the age of 12 in the US are currently infected with herpes. It is contracted through sexual contact and babies can get it during childbirth if their mothers are infected.
One of the reasons the disease spreads so rapidly is that most people have no symptoms and do not know they are infected.
The only way to completely avoid genital herpes is to abstain from sex if unmarried, or to remain faithful to one’s uninfected spouse.
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