RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- According to a recent
study of 36 primary care physician (PCP) offices in relatively affluent
suburban areas of six U.S. cities, one in four people (25.5 percent) tested
positive for the virus that causes genital herpes, despite the fact that only
four percent of all those tested reported a history of the condition.
As the study shows, genital herpes infection rates were high even among suburban,
educated and mid to high income populations. The results of this study were
published in Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
"Genital herpes continues to spread because very few people with the virus
know they have it. The prevalence statistics are important for both patients
and doctors because they show that people of all backgrounds are at high risk
for contracting genital herpes. This is especially important because people
can be contagious even when they do not have symptoms of infection," said
Peter Leone, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The study should
encourage everyone to practice safer sex, get tested, and if they are infected
learn how to manage the disease."
The study was conducted at six randomly selected PCP offices in relatively
affluent areas in each of six U.S. cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston,
Chicago, Dallas, Denver). At each office, approximately 150 people ages 18-59
were randomly chosen to participate. All blood samples were sent to a central
laboratory. A positive test result indicated they were infected with HSV-2,
the virus that causes genital herpes (GH). All samples were analyzed using
the Focus Technologies HerpeSelect 2 ELISA IgG test designed specifically
to detect HSV-2 antibodies in the blood.
In total, 5,732 people were screened; of 5,452 people who provided an
analyzable blood sample, 5,433 completed a questionnaire. The final sample
was 75 percent white, 14 percent African American, and 4 percent Hispanic.
Eighty percent were employed full- or part-time, 74 percent had some college
or higher education, 45 percent had a household income of $60,000 or higher,
and 68 percent were married/living with their partner.
The overall weighted HSV-2 seroprevalence was 25.5 percent -- that means 1
in 4 people tested positive for the virus that causes genital herpes. The
seroprevalence ranged from 13.4 percent in the 18-29-year age group, to 25.2
percent (30-39 years), to 31.2 percent (40-49 years) and 28.0 percent (50-59
years). Seroprevalence among women (28.3 percent) was greater than that among
men (22.0 percent), and was consistently higher across all age groups. Of the
1,387 people that tested positive for genital herpes, only 12 percent knew
they were infected.
The study showed that employment status, marital status and income did not
reduce the chances of having genital herpes. Those who were employed full-
time had a prevalence of 26 percent, married individuals had a prevalence of
24 percent, those living with their partners had a prevalence of 26 percent,
and those with household incomes of $60,000 to $80,000 had a prevalence of 24
percent while those with incomes over $100,000 had a prevalence of 21 percent.
Those with some college had a prevalence of 28 percent and college graduates
had a prevalence of 21 percent.
The study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline.
In 1991, an estimated 1 in 5 (or 45 million) Americans were infected with
the virus that causes genital herpes. Experts estimate that up to 60 million
Americans have the virus that causes genital herpes and the CDC estimates that
approximately 1 million people are infected each year. However, as many as
nine out of ten of those infected are unaware they have genital herpes and may
only have experienced a mild initial outbreak without recognizing recurring
symptoms of the disease. Symptoms of genital herpes may include painful or
itchy clusters of blisters, bumps and rashes in the genital area, or on the
thighs or buttocks. Many people confuse genital herpes symptoms with other
conditions such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), ingrown hair, jock itch,
zipper burn, allergic reactions, vaginal infections, a cut or a scratch, or
irritation from sexual intercourse or tight jeans.
Though the disease is most contagious during an outbreak, it can also be
contagious between outbreaks when no signs and symptoms are present. In fact,
in clinical studies, the majority of people got genital herpes from a partner
who knew they had genital herpes but reported no signs or symptoms at the time
of recent sexual activity.