WHO releases new findings on herpes infection

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WHO headquarters, Geneva. WHO/P. Virot

More than half a billion people worldwide are infected with the virus that causes genital herpes, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports.

The agency and its partners are working to speed up development of vaccines and other medicines to prevent future infections caused by the herpes simplex virus.

Dianne Penn reports.

The herpes simplex virus is categorized into two types, both of which are highly infectious and incurable.

HSV-1 is transmitted orally and causes "cold sores" or blisters in or around the mouth.

HSV-2 is almost exclusively sexually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, causing genital herpes.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has found that HSV-1 is also an important cause of genital herpes.

Dr Sami Gottlieb is with the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research.

"We can no longer think about genital herpes being caused just by HSV-2. And taken together, our two estimates of HSV-1 and HSV-2 genital infections indicate that over half a billion people have genital HSV infection. So, this is important because recurrent symptoms of painful genital ulcers in a proportion of those infected can really have a substantial impact on quality of life and on sexual relationships."

WHO added that HSV-2 genital infection increases the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The agency urged countries to improve data collection for both types of the herpes simplex virus and sexually transmitted infections in general.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 1’30″

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