The World Health Organization announced Friday that billions of people across the globe are living with herpes infections.
According to the UN health agency, some 500,000,000 estimated people worldwide are living with genital herpes, and several billion have an oral herpes infection.
About 13% of the world’s population aged 15 to 49 years were living with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection in 2016, the latest year for which data is available. HSV-2 is almost exclusively sexually transmitted, causing genital herpes. Infection can lead to recurring, often painful, genital sores in up to a third of people infected.
Around 67% of the world’s population aged 0 to 49 had herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection in 2016 – an estimated 3.7 billion people. Most of these infections were oral; however, between 122 million to 192 million people were estimated to have genital HSV-1 infection.
HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral to oral contact to cause oral herpes infection – sometimes leading to painful sores in or around the mouth, or cold sores. However, HSV-1 can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral sex, causing genital herpes.
The WHO also notes that people with HSV-2 infection are at least three times more likely to become infected with HIV, if exposed. Thus, HSV-2 likely plays a substantial role in the spread of HIV globally.
Women are more susceptible 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.
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