Study Shows Herpes is Common in Suburban Populations

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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.

Source: GlaxoSmithKline