A new estimation from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that about two-thirds of the global population under the age of 50 has herpes simplex type 1 virus, (HSV-1), more commonly known as oral herpes.
Over 3.7 billion individuals around the world are infected with the virus, which shows up in the form of cold sores around the mouth, shows the latest report. Those who contract it usually do so early on in their lives, through mouth-to-mouth contact.
Lower rates of HSV-1 are found in wealthier countries, including the United States. HSV-1 is the primary cause of genital herpes — obviously bad news. For individuals who do not contract oral herpes in childhood, they are more likely to get the virus in the form of HSV-2, from having oral sex when they’re older and sexually involved with someone.
Even in Western countries, the rise of HSV-2 has continued. The WHO — earlier in the year — reported that about 417 million individuals between the ages of 15 and 49 have genital herpes, which is a significant increase from what it calculated previously.
“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,” said Marleen Temmerman, director of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. “The new estimates highlight the crucial need for countries to improve data collection for both HSV types and sexually transmitted infections in general.”
“We really need to accelerate the development of vaccines against herpes simplex virus,” said Sami Gottlieb, MD, a WHO medical officer. “If a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevented HSV-1, it would have far reaching benefits.”