Understanding The Epidemiology Of Genital Herpes

Approximately 86 million people suffer from genital herpes. In the United States, 16.2 percent (one in six) of the population is affected. This number is an increase of 30 percent over the last 30 to 40 years. Understanding the epidemiology of genital herpes and the increased factors related to transmission can help you prevent the spread of this unpleasant disease.

Who Gets Genital Herpes?

Anyone who comes into physical contact with the disease may contract it, but scientific research has shown that certain factors may increase your susceptibility.
Factors that may enhance your chances of contraction are:
• The number of sexual partners you have
• The number of years you’re sexually active
• Whether you have a history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
• Whether you’re black, female or a homosexual male.
A survey of 66 men and women who were experiencing their first outbreaks of genital herpes revealed alarming results. Only 34 percent of those afflicted recognized their condition as genital herpes. A surprising 23 percent experienced the presence of genital ulcerations but did not recognize the condition. Even more surprising, the remainder of patients surveyed were asymptomatic, and were unaware of the condition (European Journal of Dermatology, 1991).
Asymptomatic individuals may still transmit herpes to their partner. The number of people in the population who are asymptomatic and don’t realize they carry the disease accounts for a high rate of transmission.

Sex and Sexuality: Who has a Heightened Risk of Contracting Genital Herpes

Women have a significantly heightened chance of contracting genital herpes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) estimates that 21 percent of women are afflicted with this disease, compared to only 11.5 percent of the male population (2011).
This is largely due to the fact that men are more likely to transmit the disease to their partners than women. The reasons for this are not clear, but may be in part due to the fact that men, on average, have more sexual partners than women in their lifetimes, giving them more opportunity to spread the disease.
Homosexual men were found to be more likely to contract the disease than heterosexual men, possibly for similar reasons. The presence of genital herpes can nearly double the risk of HIV in homosexual men (University of Washington, 2003).

Race as a Factor for Genital Herpes in the Population

Black persons–black women specifically–are more likely to contract the herpes simplex virus. A survey analyzed by the CDCP of persons afflicted revealed that 39 percent of the black population was infected with genital herpes, as opposed to 12 percent of the white population. The infection rate of black women was the highest at 48 percent–nearly twice as high as their male counterparts (CDCP, 2011).
Knowing how the disease is contracted will help you understand the risks of genital herpes and the measures you can take to prevent further contraction.