Herpes is a recurrent skin condition characterized by sores on the mouth or genitals. It is caused by the herpes simplex viruses called HSV-1 and HSV-2. Although HSV-1 most commonly causes cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth or face and HSV-2 most commonly causes sores on the penis or vulva, the viruses are identical under a microscope and either type can infect the mouth or genitals.
Herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact during unprotected anal, oral, or vaginal sex with an infected person or through kissing. This is possible even when no sores are present.
Herpes is not transmitted through such casual contact as hugging, shaking hands, sharing food, using the same eating utensils, drinking from the same glass, sitting on public toilets, or touching door knobs.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Individuals are often not aware they are infected with Herpes because there are either no symptoms, mild symptoms that are not noticed, or symptoms that are mistaken for other health problems such as yeast infections, insect bites, and hemorrhoids.
- Signs of Herpes may first appear within days. They may, however, not appear for weeks, months, or years. Symptoms can last for three or four weeks though they usually heal within two to 12 days.
- Symptoms may include one or more sores, blisters, cuts, pimples, bumps, or a rash. Other symptoms include an itching, burning, or tingling in either the genital area or the mouth, a fever, or swollen glands.
- Individuals usually have an average of four to five Herpes outbreaks a year. The recurrences tend to lessen in severity and frequency with time.
- Herpes is diagnosed through a visual examination of sores, an analysis of cultures from the sore(s), or blood tests.
- There is no cure for Herpes. Antiviral medications can reduce the frequency of outbreaks and speed the healing of the outbreaks.
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- National Data - CDC's Tracking the Hidden Epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States 2000 Report: www.cdc.gov/std/Trends2000/herpes.htm
- More than one in five Americans - 45 million people - are infected with genital herpes.
- From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, herpes prevalence increased 30 percent.
- Preliminary 1999 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggest that the prevalence of HSV-2 has remained relatively stable over the 1990s. In 1999, the estimated prevalence was 19% among the people ages 14-49.
Data by Sex:
- Herpes is more common in women than men, infecting approximately one out of four women, versus one out of five men. This difference in gender may be because transmission from males to females is more efficient than transmission from females to males.
Data by Race/Ethnicity:
- Although genital herpes is increasing among young whites, the infection is more common among African Americans. The prevalence among African Americans tested for herpes is 45%, as compared to whites, who have a prevalence of approximately 17%.
- To view a table showing Herpes prevalence by race/ethnicity and sex: www.cdc.gov/std/Trends2000/herpes-close.htm
Data by Age:
- The percent of people infected with herpes increases with age because, once infected, people remain infected with this incurable disease throughout their lives. Herpes infection is believed to be acquired most commonly during adolescence and young adulthood, as individuals become sexually active and may have multiple partners.
- Herpes prevalence among white teens ages 12-19 in the 1990s was five times greater than the prevalence in the 1970s. Among young white adults ages 20-29, herpes prevalence increased two-fold during that period.
Regional, State, County, and City Data:
- Herpes is common in all regions of the country and in both urban and rural areas. There are no significant differences in prevalence by geographic location.
Condoms and Herpes Prevention
Anna Wald, et al., "Effect of Condoms on Reducing the Transmission of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 From Men to Women," Journal of the American Medical Association, 285.24 (June 27, 2001): 3100-3106.
Condom use offers significant protection against HSV-2 infection in susceptible women.
Changes in sexual behavior, correlated with counseling about avoiding sex when a partner has lesions, were associated with reduction in HSV-2 acquisition over time.
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See the abstract from the Journal of the American Medical Association www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11427138 or contact your local librarian.
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