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Genital Herpes, Cases Soaring Among Blacks and Teens

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Dear Dr. Levister: I read recently about the rise in herpes cases. I am a college student, sexually active and scared of contracting this incurable disease. What can I do to protect myself? J.D.

Dear J.D.: The safest and surest way to protect yourself from genital herpes is to abstain from sex. However, in a society where sex among young singles is as common as brushing teeth, the idea of abstinence is unrealistic advice. The next best protection is to use condoms and avoid multiple sex partners.

Despite years of warnings and in-your-face publicity, genital herpes cases have risen sharply since the late 1970’s and now can be detected in one out of every five people age 12 and older per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only 10% of those infected know that they have the sexually transmitted disease, which cause painful sores.

The startling increase suggests that programs aimed at preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) aren’t working. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a statistical sampling of 40,000 people conducted by researchers at CDC from 1988 through 1994, found about 90% of those who test positive for herpes simplex virus (HSV)2, the genital herpes virus don’t know they have it. HSV-2 can cause severe genital ulcers but often with symptoms so mild it goes unrecognized.

Herpes is more prevalent among women (25.6%) than men (17.8%). It is more common in Blacks (45.9%), followed by Mexican-Americans (22.3%) and Whites (17.6%). The incidence among White teens has nearly quadrupled since the previous survey in 1976 through 1980, from 0.96% to 4.5%.

The survey found herpes rates were highest amongst those who used cocaine and those with multiple sexual partners throughout life. Herpes is not curable, although there are treatments available to ease symptoms and minimize the likelihood of transmission. The CDC says that it is working with other public health agencies to develop a national program on genital herpes prevention.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502.

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