Sex & Relationships

New Study: You Probably Have Herpes

Two in three people under the age of 50 are infected with HSV-1, the virus that causes cold sores.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In the “first ever global assessment of the prevalence of the herpes virus that causes cold sores,” the World Health Organization has found that two in three humans under the age of 50 are infected with the incurable virus. The results, published in the journal PLoS One, have inspired several outlets to advertise the news under the startling headline, "You Probably Have Herpes.”

In previous research, WHO found that 417 million people ages 17-49 have the herpes simplex virus type 2 (aka genital herpes). HSV-1, contrarily, is transmitted by oral-oral contact, and causes mouth ulcers in place of genital infection. Though, as Reuters notes, it is becoming an increasing cause of genital infection, namely in rich countries. Reuters explains, “Improved hygiene in rich countries is lowering HSV-1 infection rates in childhood, leaving young people more at risk of catching it via oral sex when they become sexually active.”

Sami Gottlieb, a WHO medical officer, told the agency, "We really need to accelerate the development of vaccines against herpes simplex virus, and if a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevented HSV-1, it would have far-reaching benefits."

Researchers haven’t yet introduced an effective vaccine against either virus. British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline abandoned a vaccine trial after finding the product was not effective against HSV-2, though it did show some effective resistance against HSV-1. Nathalie Broutet, also a WHO medical officer, said, “That was interesting and promising and gave a proof of concept that these vaccines can be developed. There’s a lot of work ongoing and we’re hoping that we’ll have an HSV vaccine in the future.”

NBC News reports that Americans have the lowest infection rates for HSV-1, with around 49% of women and 39% of men infected. That number jumps to 60% in Southeast Asia, and a staggering 87% in Africa.  

H/P Newser

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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