CDC: Genital Herpes Rates Still High
Women, African-Americans Most at Risk, Report Finds
March 9, 2010 -- One in six Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes and close to one
in two black women are infected, new figures from the CDC reveal.
Rates of infection with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) -- the sexually
transmitted virus that causes most genital herpes -- have remained relatively
stable over the last decade, following steep declines in infection rates in the
late 1980s and early 1990s.
About 19 million people in the U.S. are infected with HSV-2, at a cost to
the nation’s health care system of close to $16 billion a year.
Overall, 16% of Americans between the ages of 14 and 49 had genital herpes
between 2005 and 2008, compared to 17% between 1999 and 2004.
The new estimates come from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition
Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a nationally representative survey of
U.S. households covering a wide range of health issues.
According to the latest findings:
- Women and African-Americans were the most likely to be infected. HSV-2
prevalence was nearly twice as high among women (21%) as men (11%), and more
than three times higher among African-Americans (39%) than whites
- The infection rate among African-American women was 48%
- The infection rate was roughly 4% among people who reported having just one
sex partner ever, compared to almost 27% for those who reported 10 or more
- Nearly four out of five people who have genital herpes have not been
diagnosed and may not know they have the infection.
Genital Herpes Raises HIV Risk
"This latest analysis emphasizes that we can’t afford to be complacent about
this infection," John M. Douglas, Jr., MD, who directs the CDC’s Division of
STD Prevention, said in a news conference Tuesday at the 2010 National STD
Prevention Conference in Atlanta.
"It is important that we promote steps to prevent the spread of genital
herpes, not only because herpes is a lifelong and incurable infection, but also
because of the linkage between herpes and HIV infection."
Research shows that people with genital herpes are two to three times more
likely to acquire HIV and they are also more likely to transmit HIV infection
Douglas explained that the immunologic response at the site where herpes
ulcers form act as a target for HIV infection even after the ulcers have
"If you come into contact with the HIV virus, even after the ulcers have
healed, you may be more likely to become infected," he says.
People who are dually infected with HIV and HSV-2 may also be especially
likely to transmit the HIV virus to others during genital herpes flare-ups.
Need for Increased Public Awareness
The reason women have higher rates of HSV-2 infection than men is largely
explained by the fact that their genital tissue is more vulnerable to the small
tears that make transmission more likely.