TUESDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- People with genital herpes
can transmit the virus to partners even when they do not have
lesions, new research shows.
Although this has been suspected before, "the data here looks
really robust," said Fred Wyand, a spokesman for the American
Social Health Association.
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection is one of the most
common sexually transmitted diseases, affecting some 536 million
people worldwide. Sixteen percent of U.S. adults have tested
positive for HSV-2, but only 10 percent to 25 percent of those
infected recognized the disease.
Blood tests to detect HSV-2 became widely available in 1999,
making it easier for people to find out if they have genital herpes
even if the infection isn't active.
Still, previous large government surveys had found that some 80
percent of Americans don't know they have genital herpes, said
study co-author Dr. Christine Johnston. The report appears in the
April 13 issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association, a themed issue on infectious diseases and immunology.
"Most people don't know they have it," Wyand said. They may even have symptoms, but not recognize what they are.
"They could be mild symptoms or they may attribute it to something else: chafing, jock itch, yeast infections," he explained.
Researchers had also known that people don't have to have
symptoms to transmit the virus.
The current study is the largest yet to look at the issue and
also used a sensitive DNA test to detect the virus "meaning we were
able to give a much clearer estimate of how often people shed,"
said Johnston, who is acting assistant professor of medicine at the
University of Washington in Seattle.
Shedding refers to when the virus is replicating and therefore
is transmissible to another person.
The trial involved almost 500 people who had tested positive for
the virus. Each person took daily genital swabs for at least 30
days. More than 28,000 swabs were collected and analyzed.
The virus was detected on 20 percent of days in 410 people who
had symptoms, compared with 10 percent of days in those who had no
But both groups shed about the same amount of virus on the days
they were shedding.
"The main difference was the time," Johnston explained.
The findings argue for use of preventive measures as often as
possible. Those include wearing a condom, taking the antiviral
medication Valtrex (valacyclovir) every day and telling your
partner about the infection.
"All of those three strategies have been shown to reduce transmission by 30 to 50 percent," Johnston said. "Thinking out all of those strategies and utilizing those should be considered."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on
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