WHO: Two-thirds of global population under 50 has herpes

Roughly 3.7 billion people under age 50 around the world are infected with the easily spread, incurable disease.

By Stephen Feller

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- Two-thirds of the global population under the age of 50 is infected with herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, according to new estimates from the World Health Organization.

HSV-1 is primarily spread through oral contact and most often causes "cold sores," although it can be spread to the genitals, and some 140 million people around the world ages 15 to 49 are infected with genital HSV-1. Fewer people in high-income countries are becoming infected with HSV-1 as children due to better hygiene and living conditions and are instead at risk of contracting it genitally through oral sex.


HSV-2, almost entirely spread through skin-to-skin sexual contact, affects some 417 million people under age 50. When combined, more than half a billion people around the world have a sexual infection from HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Both forms of herpes are easily spread and incurable, although the symptoms -- either orolabial sores on the face, or genital or anal blisters or ulcers -- can be treated with antibiotics.

"Access to education and information on both types of herpes and sexually transmitted infections is critical to protect young people's health before they become sexually active," said Dr. Marleen Temmerman, director of the WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, in a press release. "The new estimates highlight the crucial need for countries to improve data collection for both HSV types and sexually transmitted infections in general."


WHO researchers pooled data for six of the organization's regions and used population data from 2012 to determine prevalence of HSV-1 and estimate infection rates around the world. The researchers estimate 3.7 billion people between the ages of 0 and 49, or two-thirds of the global population in that age range, is infected with HSV-1. New HSV-1 infections in 2012 were estimated globally to be about 119 million.

"The global burden of HSV-1 infection is huge," researchers wrote in the study, suggesting wider education efforts be made and the development of vaccines for both forms of HSV should be considered.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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