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Genital Herpes Health Center

Herpes Common in Middle, Upper Classes

1 in 4 Test Positive for Herpes in Suburban Areas
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July 29, 2003 -- A new study shows that genital herpes is an equal opportunity virus. As many as 25% of people tested in relatively affluent suburbs had the STD, but only 4% of them reported a history of having it.

Researchers presented the findings at the 15th Biennial Congress of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Diseases Research.

"Knowing that herpes is highly prevalent among affluent and educated people living in the suburbs should help to erase some of the stigma so commonly associated with the disease," says leading sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, aka "Dr. Ruth," in a news release.

To drive the point home, researchers randomly chose six primary care physician offices in affluent areas in six major U.S. cities. They tested blood samples for herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) antibodies in almost 5,500 people ages 18-59, 5,430 of whom completed a questionnaire. The volunteers were 75% white, 14% black, and 4% Hispanic. Seventy-four percent had some college or higher education and 45% had a household income of at least $60,000.

The results showed that higher levels of education, income, and marital status didn't curb the chances of getting HSV-2. In fact, one in four volunteers tested positive for the disease but only 4% of them knew they had it. Volunteers ages 40 to 49 had the highest rate of infection (31.2%). More women than men were infected.

Many People With Herpes Unaware of Infection

"One of the reasons herpes continues to spread is because very few people with the virus know they have it. In order to help manage the spread of the disease, both doctors and patients need to be aware that everyone who is sexually active is at risk for getting herpes," says Douglas Fleming, MD of the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine in Piscataway, N.J.

Researchers stress that high economic status should not automatically mean someone has a low risk.

Genital herpes is a contagious viral infection primarily caused by HSV-2. It spreads through physical skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Spread can even occur through contact with a person who has no symptoms. It can affect men and women, causing periodic outbreaks with symptoms such as painful or itchy clusters of blisters, bumps, and rashes in the genital area, thighs, or buttocks. Herpes is not life threatening and there is no cure, but patients can take prescription medications to suppress outbreaks.

The study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, a WebMD sponsor.

SOURCE: News Release, GlaxoSmithKline.

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