Amidst the spread of diseases which have ravaged the world scene in the past few months, the World Health Organization has identified Herpes as another potential threat, estimating that half a billion people worldwide are living with genital Herpes.
The W.H.O have this morning expressed concerns over the widespread nature of Herpes 1 and 2, asserting that the disease increases the risk of HIV infection if underestimated.
Herpes is an infection caused by HSV (herpes simplex virus). This virus affects the external genitalia, anal region, mucosal surfaces, and skin in other parts of the body.
Herpes is a long-term condition. However, many people never have symptoms even though they are carrying the virus.
Symptoms include blisters, ulcers, pain when urinating, cold sores and vaginal discharge. Although there is no cure for herpes, it can be treated using medications and home remedies.
Studies have been set up to estimate the global infection prevelance and occurrence of Herpes Simplex Virus types 1 and 2 since 2016.
The studies authored by staff at the University of Bristol, WHO, and Weill Cornell Medical College, Quatar have been published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
“Herpes infection affects millions of people across the globe and can have far-reaching health effects. We need more investment and commitment to develop better treatment and prevention tools for this infection.” says Dr Sami Gottlieb, Medical Officer at WHO and an author of the study.
Herpes type 1, clinically referred to as HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral to oral contact and causes infections in the form of painful mouth sores.
Herpes 1 is even more harmful than it seems, as the WHO warns that genital Herpes can occur through oral sex with an infected person.
A strong association has been identified between HSV-2 infection and HIV infection. In 2019, WHO commissioned a modeling study to estimate how much HSV-2 infection might contribute to HIV incidence.
The study estimated that almost 30% of new sexually acquired HIV infections in 2016 worldwide were likely attributable to HSV-2 infection.
Evidence shows that people with HSV-2 infection are at least three times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed.
“HSV-2 leads to inflammation and small breaks in the genital and anal skin that can make it easier for HIV to cause infection. In addition, people with both HIV and HSV-2 infection are more likely to spread HIV to others”, the WHO study observes.
“Women have higher biologic susceptibility to both HSV-2 and HIV. Women living in the WHO Africa Region have the highest HSV-2 prevalence and exposure to HIV – putting them at greatest risk of HIV infection, with negative implications for their health and well-being”.
For people living with HIV (or who are living with other conditions that compromise their immune systems) as well as HSV-2, the symptoms of herpes can be more severe and more frequent.
Another study published by the World Health Organization in March this year, estimates that, ” 5% of the world’s population (187 million people) suffered from at least one episode of herpes-related genital ulcer disease in 2016 “.
Recurrent symptoms of genital herpes can lead to stigma and psychological distress, and can have an important impact on quality of life and sexual relationships. However, in time, most people with herpes adjust to living with the infection.