Genital Herpes Virus Rate Drops
Condom Use by Teens and a Switch to Oral Sex May Be Factors
Aug. 22, 2006 -- Infections with the genital herpes
virus are down in the U.S., reversing an upward trend.
It doesn't mean genital herpes isn't a
problem. About one in six Americans (17%) had the genital herpes virus --
called HSV-2 -- during 1999-2004. But that is down from the 21% rate seen in
The good news comes from a CDC study based on actual blood samples. It
provides evidence supporting recent studies documenting self-reported
reductions in high-risk sex among teens.
Genital herpes is a highly contagious infection usually spread through
intercourse with a person with infected sores, but it can be passed through
oral or anal sex as well. It may also be spread even when sores are not
Because herpes infection never goes away, a drop in the nationwide infection
rate means that fewer young people are getting HSV-2 infections, note CDC
researcher Fujie Xu, MD, PhD, and colleagues.
The study suggests that the upwards trend in genital herpes has been
reversed, Xu and colleagues conclude.
Specific behaviors that may have affected genital herpes rates include more
careful partner selection, increased use of condoms, and choosing oral sex over
Genital Infections With Cold-Sore Virus
As its name suggests, HSV-2 isn't the only herpes virus out there. HSV-1,
the virus that causes cold sores, is much more
common. As of 1999-2004, 57.7% of Americans carry the virus -- down slightly
from the 62% HSV-1 infection rate seen in 1988-1994.
There's some bad news here: HSV-1 is causing more genital herpes than ever
before. About 2% of people with HSV-1 infection -- but not HSV-2 -- have
"Our findings are consistent with previous reports that genital herpes
caused by HSV-1 may be increasing in the United States, as in other developed
countries," Xu and colleagues note.
The researchers warn that the herpes virus that causes cold sores may one
day become a more important cause of genital herpes. One factor: The increase
in teen oral sex that's helping stop HSV-2 spread may be increasing genital
infections with HSV-1.
Xu and colleagues report their findings in the Aug. 23/30 issue of The
Journal of the American Medical Association.