Some 3.7 billion people have herpes in one form or another. Says who? The World Health Organization, that’s WHO! WHO says 2/3 of people under 50 have herpes, reported UPI Oct. 30. And over a half billion have sexually transmitted herpes genital herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) STD.
HSV-1 is mostly spread through oral contact and usually shows up as “cold sores,” but it can be spread to the genitals from oral sex. Children living in unsanitary conditions can get HSV-1. Thanks to better hygiene and cleaner living conditions in high-income countries, fewer children are getting infected with HSV-1. But more people in richer countries are getting genital HSV-1 through oral sex. Globally, some 140 million people between the ages 15 to 49 are infected with genital HSV-1.
HSV-2 is spread almost exclusively by skin-to-skin sexual contact. And roughly 417 million people under age 50 have HSV-2. When the infections of genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 STD are combined, a whopping 567 million people have a herpes STD. With the planet’s population at 7 billion, that’s approximately 1 in 14 people with sexually transmitted herpes. And that’s just the number infected with the herpes STD. That doesn’t count the millions infected with another STD. And that is a pandemic.
There are several reasons genital HSV-1 and HSV-2 are so virulent. Both are incurable. Both are spread by oral sex which many people wrongly think is STD-proof. Symptoms include orolabial (fever blisters) or “cold sores” on the face, genitalia or anus. But the good news is that both variety of the herpes STD can be treated with antibiotics.
Education is critical to STD and herpes prevention. Young people must be taught about sexually transmitted diseases–including the fact that they can be spread by oral sex–before they become sexually active. Dr. Marleen Temmerman, director of the WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research said that the new herpes infections estimates highlight the need for improved data collection on HSV types and sexually transmitted diseases in general.
WHO researchers collected data for six of its regions and used 2012 population data to calculate prevalence of HSV-1. From that they estimated infection rates around the world. WHO estimates that 3.7 billion people ages of 0 and 49–two-thirds of the population in that age range, is infected with herpes. Many are children, but they will grow up to be sexually active. And they will spread their infection either by genital contact or with oral sex. With the global burden that is herpes, researchers suggest widening education efforts and developing vaccines for genital HSV-1 and HSV-2.