Herpes on the rise in Australia

May 19, 2006

One in eight Australian adults has been infected with the virus causing genital herpes, with the rate one in five for women aged 35-44, a study said.

The first Australian study of herpes simplex virus infection -- published in the British journal "Sexually Transmitted Infections" -- also found 76 percent of Australian adults were exposed to the other main variant, HSV-1, which causes cold sores on the mouth and lips, The Australian reported Friday.

Genital infections, or HSV-2, were more than twice as common among women as men -- 16 percent to 8 percent, the study found.

The study was funded by drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, which is developing a vaccine for HSV-2.

Lead author Tony Cunningham, deputy chairman of the Australian Herpes Management Forum, said the findings were significant as HSV-2 trebled the chance of contracting HIV.

Cunningham said it was suspected but still unproven that a greater incidence of oral sex among adolescents was increasing the HSV-1 infection rate. Contrary to popular belief, this variant could infect the genital area, he said.

He also warned against oral sex for women in late pregnancy, as HSV-1 could be passed to the baby, with serious or fatal consequences in 25 percent of neonatal infections.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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