Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Confirmed Contagious: Silent Herpes
The current issue of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, includes an important study: Genital Shedding of Herpes Simplex Virus Among Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Persons With HSV-2 Infection. We know that the vast majority of people who are infected with genital herpes are UNAWARE that they have this disease, so it is critically important to know whether someone who has disease, but doesn't KNOW it, can still pass that disease on to a partner. How can infected people not know?
First of all, not all herpes infections are obvious. The classic herpes lesion is a painful cluster of blisters sitting on a bright red base. However, these blisters may not be visible, especially on a woman, since they can be hidden up inside the vagina. Additionally, many people have very mild symptoms, such as intermittent burning, itch, or discomfort with intercourse. If you are not checked for herpes with a specific antibody blood test, both you and your medical provider can easily miss this diagnosis!
Back to the research...This study was done on roughly 500 patients, both men & women, all of whom tested positive for Herpes Simplex Type 2 (HSV-2) by a blood test, though only 82% were already aware that they had herpes symptoms. Those that did know they were infected averaged 4 break outs per year, and had ~8 years history of having the disease. Every participant swabbed their genital area daily, regardless of symptoms. None of the patients were allowed to take anti-viral medications during the trial.
The results? Yes, people who experienced obvious herpes lesions shed MORE virus- translation, they were potentially infectious to partners. However, here is the important part: People who only knew that they had herpes because of the positive blood test STILL SHED VIRUS (meaning were infectious to others) 10% of the time, and the amount of virus present was the same quantity in people aware or unaware of their lesions.
BOTTOM LINE: This study again confirms that you are infectious to other people if you have a positive blood test for herpes, whether or not you have any symptoms. GET TESTED, and be sure your PARTNER GETS TESTED, too!