WHO: 3.7 Billion People Have ‘Cold Sore’ Virus

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Two-thirds of people around the world under age 50 -- more than 3.7 billion -- have herpes simplex virus type 1. How bad is the problem in the U.S.?

The World Health Organization’s first global estimates of herpes simplex virus type 1 infection were published on Wednesday.

Two-thirds of people under age 50 — more than 3.7 billion people — have this condition, according to a WHO report in the journal Plos One.

There are two types of herpes simplex virus. Both are incurable and highly infectious:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is primarily transmitted by mouth-to-mouth contact and usually causes orolabial herpes (ulcers around the mouth that are sometimes referred to as “cold sores”). However, in some cases, it also can cause genital herpes (ulcers on the genitals).
  • Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is usually sexually transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. It causes genital herpes. In January, WHO estimated that 417 million people aged 15 to 49 have an HSV-2 infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on how these viruses cause genital herpes.

Marleen Temmerman, director of WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, says in a news release:

“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.”

According to WHO’s estimates, among people from birth to age 49, in 2012, HSV-1 was least prevalent in the Americas, where 178 million women (49 percent) and 142 million men (39 percent) were infected.

It was most prevalent in Africa, where 350 million women and 355 million men were infected in 2012. That represents 87 percent of Africans of each sex.

For more grim news from WHO this week, check out “Sorry, Carnivores: Health Research Shows Processed Meats Cause Cancer.”

Do these numbers surprise — or worry — you? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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