Approximately two-thirds of people under the age of 50 have herpes, according to World Health Organization estimates.
It’s the first time the WHO has estimated the global prevalence of the infection. Using available data from six WHO regions along with 2012 population figures, it was estimated that 3.7 billion people aged 0-49 have herpes. The highest rates were found in Africa, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific.
The herpes simplex virus is categorized into two types: HSV-1, affecting the mouth area and commonly resulting in cold sores, and HSV-2, genital herpes. Both are highly infectious and incurable.
HSV-1 is primarily transmitted via oral-to-oral contact. The WHO states that the majority of HSV-1 infections occur during childhood.
Genital herpes, HSV-2, is almost entirely sexually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Researchers say HSV-1 is increasingly causing genital herpes, transmitted during oral sex: it’s estimated that more than half a billion people aged 15-49 years have the genital infection caused by either HSV-1 or 2.
A 2013 study released by Stats Canada found that as many as one in seven Canadians aged 14 to 59 may be infected with HSV-2, with more than 90 per cent of them possibly unaware of their status.
The WHO says there is a “crucial need” for countries to develop better methods of data collection for herpes and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), while people need to learn how to better protect themselves and stop the spread of herpes and other STIs.
“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 WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research.
The WHO has been pushing for a herpes vaccine along with calls for research into how to better preventative and control the spread of the virus.
The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that females are at higher risk of catching genital herpes from a male partner than vice-versa.
“Genital herpes can be transmitted during unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, even if the infected person has no visible sores or any other symptoms of infection,” the health agency states.
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