Let's Talk Sex
October 8, 2013

Herpes – the single most common STI worldwide

Herpes is the single most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) worldwide. It is estimated that 20-40 per cent of the adult US population is infected, and worldwide, as much as 90 per cent of the world’s population. This is because most people who have the virus are not aware of it (only one in six in the US is aware), because most are without symptoms.{{more}}

Herpes is the name of a large family of viruses, which can produce symptoms like the common cold or flu, to glandular problems, to skin rashes like chickenpox, to cancers. Some are sexually transmitted and the most common of these are the herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2. Traditionally, the type 1 was spread by kissing and was called the oro-facial type, while type 2, spread by sexual contact, was called the genital type. However, with varying and alternate sexual practices, it is now almost impossible to tell which is which, except by blood tests, as type 1 can be passed to the genitals by oral sex and vice versa. For practical purposes, if the person only has a cold sore called “night fever”, we doctors assume it is the type 1 caused by kissing, but as I said before, it is not always so; likewise, the type 2 tends to cause genital ulcers, but they may be caused by the type 1. From a practical viewpoint, it is immaterial which type it is, as the treatment and pathology is basically the same, even though the social stigma is different.

Herpes was not stigmatized until the late 70s to mid 80s in the US. As I said before, most of the world’s population, including most Vincentians, have evidence of previous herpes simplex infections. Most infections, even though symptomatic, are brushed off as the common cold or a simple rash or skin infection; besides most people do not recognize that the common cold sore is a herpes simplex infection, contracted by the act of kissing. So, how do you know that you have herpes? Most people who contract herpes simplex for the first time usually have a fever, with mild aches and pains. This is accompanied or followed by a rash. The rash is classically on the genitals and can be accompanied by swollen glands in the groin. The initial rash comes up as a painful crop of vesicles or “water boils” and can range from the size of one to two pinheads, to as large as several one-dollar coins. The rash lasts for one to two weeks and heals with a discoloured area.
The symptoms disappear, only to reappear several months later, but with less intensity. This cycle will repeat itself indefinitely throughout the person’s life. In other words, these outbreaks will recur every few months, but with less intensity and frequency, so that most people will have one or two outbreaks a year. This applies both to the oral and genital type. Some people will “outgrow” their infections, meaning after the first one or two attacks, they no longer have attacks. This does not mean that they no longer have infections; instead they become latent carriers or “sleepers”. They can still cause infections in others, hence the reason for the high prevalence of herpes infections. It also explains the reasons why so many have evidence of previous infections, because some get the initial infection, then become carriers, not manifesting the symptoms periodically, but still being able to spread the virus.

For comments or question contact:

Dr Rohan Deshong

Tel: (784) 456-2785

email: deshong@vincysurf.com