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Genital herpes is widespread, CDC says

Nearly one in every two African American women ages 14 to 49 has genital herpes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. Overall, two out of every five blacks in that age group carry the virus, and one out of every six Americans, the agency announced at an STD Prevention Conference in Atlanta. The proportions have not changed since the agency's last estimate for the period 1999 to 2004. About 80% of those who carry the virus do not know they are infected. Women appear to be particularly susceptible to infection, with 21% of women infected, compared with 11.5% of men.

"The message is herpes is quite common," Dr. John M. Douglas Jr. of the CDC's division of STD prevention said in a telephone news conference. "The symptoms can often be very innocuous," which explains why so many are unaware of their condition.

Genital herpes, known more precisely as herpes simplex virus type 2 or HSV-2, is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the country. It can cause recurrent and painful genital sores. The infections cannot be cured, but lesions can be controlled with antiviral drugs such as Zovirax, Zirgan and Valtrex, which halve the likelihood of transmission to a sexual partner. The virus is most commonly transmitted when sores are present in the genital area but can be transmitted even when they are not. "Many individuals are transmitting herpes to others without even knowing it," Douglas said. The agency does not recommend widespread screening for infections but does suggest that people with symptoms that might be caused by the virus be tested by their physicians. Surveys reported at the conference suggest that many people, especially women, are anxious or uncomfortable about seeking STD testing and are unwilling to have a positive result appear in their medical records.
 
 

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