Geneva – A report published Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that around two-thirds of the population has herpes.

Herpes simplex virus is a lifelong infection, which often has mild or no symptoms at all. There are two categories: type 1 (HSV-1), and type 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is mainly transmitted by oral-oral contact which causes orolabial herpes, whilst HSV-2 is primarily sexually transmitted and causes genital herpes. Both are highly infectious and can’t be cured, however, they can be detected by the presence of antibodies for HSV-1 or HSV-2 in the blood.

According to the WHO, more than 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 are infected with HSV-1. This also translates into 67 percent of the population, or almost two-thirds. Image: Independent

The report indicates that HSV-1 is now also an important cause of genital herpes. Around 140 million people around the world between ages 15-49 are infected with genital HSV-1 infection. Yet less people in high-income countries are becoming infected with HSV-1, such as children, probably due to better hygiene and living conditions, and therefore are more likely to contract it genitally through oral sex after they become sexually active.

“Access to education and information on both types of herpes and sexually transmitted infections is critical to protect young people’s health before they become sexually active,” says Dr Marleen Temmerman, Director of WHO’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research.

When genital herpes symptoms do occur, they take the form of one or more painful genital or anal blisters or ulcers. Herpes symptoms can be treated with antivirals, but after an initial episode, symptoms can recur. Recurrences of genital herpes due to HSV-1 are generally much less frequent than for HSV-2.

Because of the lack of lifelong treatment for both simplex viruses, the UN organization along with its partners are working towards the development of HSV vaccines and topical microbicides, along with treatment for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The consideration for these cures will be held at the 69th World Health Assembly in 2016.

Sources: WHO