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    More Genital Herpes From Cold Sore Virus

    More Genital Herpes From Cold Sore Virus

    WebMD Health News

    Oct. 3, 2002 - The virus that triggers "cold sores" of the mouth is becoming an increasingly common cause of genital herpes -- and the source of that upswing may be people who begin having sex while in or before high school.

    In the past, nearly all cases of genital herpes, which affects about one in five Americans, most of them unaware of their condition, resulted from unprotected sexual intercourse with someone infected with the herpes simplex virus-2. Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) has traditionally caused cold sores (or fever blisters).

    "But now, we're seeing more cases of genital herpes that result from HSV-1," Rhoda Ashley-Morrow, PhD, researcher at the University of Washington, tells WebMD. "In the U.K., as many as 60% of new genital herpes infections are due to HSV-1. Here in Seattle, about one-third of new cases are caused by HSV-1."

    And sexually active kids may be largely responsible, according to a new study.

    Morrow's study shows that people who began having sex by age 15 were up to 60% more likely to be infected with HSV-1 than those who first had sex at age 20 or older. Published in the October issue of the medical journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, the study suggests those who begin having sex at an earlier age "are particularly vulnerable to infection with HSV-1" and may spread genital herpes without having intercourse.

    "The younger you are, the less immunity you have to HSV-1," she tells WebMD. "And the assumption is being made that there is more oral-genital contact among young people with HSV-1." However, the researchers cannot be certain if kissing, oral sex, or intercourse transmitted the infections. Kissing or even touching the lips of someone with an active cold sore caused by HSV-1 can lead to genital herpes if you then touch your own genitalia.

    Half of all American high school students are sexually active, according to federal statistics. This includes more than 60% of boys and girls in 12th grade, and 33% of girls and 45% of boys in 9th grade. Of those, only about half of the seniors and two-thirds of 9th graders use condoms, which can prevent the spread of genital herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases, according to the CDC.

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