One out of six Americans is estimated to have genital herpes, a condition that can produce painful blisters and make a person more susceptible to HIV infection. Last week the New York Times ran a Health Guide series on the disease; as a follow-up, STD expert Peter Leone, MD, a University of North Carolina associate professor, answered questions today on the Consults blog.
It's not a fun topic - Times writer Eric Sabo said herpes "may be the largest epidemic no one wants to talk about" - but it's important that people stay informed. In an earlier Q&A, Leone outlines why herpes shouldn't be ignored:
...The reason why we should focus on herpes now is that the relationship between herpes and H.I.V. is significant. Although people don’t die from herpes, there is a synergy between these two infections. If a person has genital herpes due to the herpes type 2 virus, their risk of acquiring H.I.V. is much higher than if they didn’t have herpes. And a person who has both H.I.V. and herpes 2 is more likely to transmit both infections.
These two epidemics are linked, and because herpes has been pushed to the side, we haven’t paid enough attention to it. There are 60 million adults in the United States alone who have herpes, and we have a million new cases a year. It’s a big epidemic.