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Herpes Often Spread Unknowingly

One out of five women could unknowingly be fueling the herpes epidemic

October 30, 2008

Young women who don't know they have the virus that causes genital herpes could be unknowingly fueling the herpes epidemic, new research suggests.

Although they have no symptoms of the disease and have not been tested, many women are actively shedding the virus in their genital tracts, says Kenneth Fife, MD. "They're often infectious and don't know it," he tells WebMD.

Nationwide, at least 45 million people 12 and older, or one out of five adolescents and adults, have genital herpes, according to the CDC.  It's most often caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).

Two-Thirds of Women Actively Shedding Virus

Fife and colleagues studied 127 young women. They entered the study when they were 14 to 18 and were followed for four to six years. Only 3 of the 127 women had been diagnosed with genital herpes, and the rest hadn't been tested before.

Over the course of the study, about one-fourth of the women who originally tested negative for HSV-2 subsequently tested positive.

But what was really of concern, Fife says, was that two-thirds of these women were actively shedding virus. "That's when they can spread the disease," he says.

Had the women not been in the study, they might never have been tested, Fife says. Most had no symptoms - not even common symptoms like genital pain or vaginal discharge, which can be caused by a number of disorders, he says.

Viral Shedding Continues for More Than a Decade

In a separate study, University of Washington researchers found that even 10 years after being diagnosed with HSV-2, adults continue to shed virus says Paul Auwaerter, MD, of Johns Hopkins.

The study involved 89 otherwise healthy adults with documented HSV-2 infection. As in the Indiana study, most had no symptoms, he says.

Together, these findings "show why this virus is so successfully spread among the sexually active population."

"Many of these women had no symptoms and hence were unaware they had herpes and hence more likely to spread it. You need to be screened specifically for it," Auwaerter says.


Hormonal Contraception May Lower the Body's Natural Defenses

Also at the meeting, researchers reported that the pill and other forms of hormonal contraception may lower a woman's natural defenses against HSV-2.

Gail Shust, MD, studied the genital fluid from 16 healthy women aged 18 to 25 who were at low risk of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Genital fluid has been shown to have natural antimicrobial activity against HSV-2, Shust says.

Nine of the 16 women were using hormonal contraception: Seven were on the pill, one used injectable Depo-Provera, and one the vaginal ring NuvaRing.

Results showed genital fluid from the women using hormonal contraception had significantly less anti-herpes activity compared with the other women.

Web Source:

Source: By Charlene Laino, WebMD Health News, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, 48th Annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC)/ Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) 46th Annual Meeting, Washington D.C., Oct. 25-28, 2008. Kenneth Fife, MD, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis. Paul Auwaerter, MD, co-chairman, ICAAC/IDSA Program Committee, Johns Hopkins, Gail Shust, MD, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y., CDC: "Genital Herpes-CDC Fact Sheet."
Dr. Iverson's Comment
Infections of all types are more easily being spread to the susceptible. There are many reasons our immune system is not effectively eradicating the viruses which we come in contact. 
Immune depression can be caused from diet choices that are less than healthy, especially foods that are high in sugar and processing. Sufficient water is needed to help create healthy mucus which acts as a natural defense barrier.   Alcohol and coffee intake which can be higher in college aged women also act as dehydrating substances that further aggravate the immune depression.
Chemicals in our environment are also to be blamed for the multiple immune insufficiencies that are evident today. We should buy organic foods when we are able, avoid toxic chemicals in all forms when possible, and cleanse the body seasonally to eliminate the excess toxins that can burden the system.
What was particularly interesting in this article were the effects of hormonal contraceptives have in suppressing immunity against herpes viruses (and probably other STDs).   Women that are preparing for contraception are actually putting themselves at a greater risk for passing infection if they do not use condoms. 
Sexually active adults should be tested regularly with change of partners to identify new infections to prevent epidemics.    This is excellent educational material that isn’t known by most sexually active young adults.
Be well....AND safe!!
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