08 Aug Why herpes shouldn’t be a bad word
THOUGH many people cringe at the mention of the word herpes, what they don’t know is that they may well be carriers of the virus.
Recently, social media erupted in a frenzy after singer Usher’s herpes status was made known, and the details of a legal battle with a woman who reportedly had emotional trauma due to his positive status were revealed. Equally shocking was the story of Mariana Sifrit, an infant girl who died after she contracted viral meningitis caused by herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) when she was less than a week old, caused by a kiss from a visitor shortly after she was born.
But obstetrician-gynaecologist (ObGyn) Dr Daryl Daley says the herpes simplex virus is fairly common, and most people infected are unaware of it.
“It is responsible for cold sores to the orolabial region — lips (night fever, HSV-1) and genital sores (genital herpes – herpes simplex virus-2). Not everyone has the classic symptoms of painful, recurrent sores/outbreaks. It may be overlooked as acne, insect bites or irritation. Some people may have no symptoms at all (asymptomatic), yet can still transmit the virus,” he explained.
He added: “The HSV is extremely contagious when active. It is sexually transmitted and can also be transmitted through intimate encounters — kissing or skin-to-skin contact. Condoms definitely reduce the risk of transmission, but the virus can still be transmitted — especially if it is present on the skin of the genitalia and there is skin-to-skin contact.”
Dr Daley said the virus is not harmful, but if sores are present (orally and in the genital region) it can lead to the transmission of other STIs such as HIV.
On the other hand, Dr Alfred Dawes, general, laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon, pointed out that type 1 herpes affects more than two-thirds of people under age 50, while type 2 is estimated to affect one in five persons.
He further explained that the viruses are so common that you or someone you’ve had intercourse with may have herpes.
“The majority of people don’t show symptoms so they aren’t aware that they have it, hence the stigma attached to those who show signs of the disease. There is no other sexually transmitted disease that affects 20 per cent of the population. Compare that to HIV rates in Jamaica of roughly 1.6 per cent. Herpes can be bad, in that it can affect babies during birth and may increase your chances of contracting HIV if the person is symptomatic. But for the most part, it is much overblown in the majority of persons who practise safe sex. There are no long-term complications like syphilis and chlamydia, and it usually gets better with time,” he said.
Dr Dawes added: “We need to end the stigmatisation of persons showing symptoms of herpes, and allow them to live their lives the same way those who are quiet carriers do. If you have herpes, just have safe sex and notify your doctors so they may protect your baby. Otherwise, be thankful it wasn’t HIV you caught, and don’t take any chances.”