GENITAL HERPES IS SURPRISINGLY COMMON, YET THERE’S NO VACCINE OR CURE. WHY?
In general, talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is kind of a mood-killer. But the word “herpes” in particular invokes a special kind of fear and paranoia. Even though genital herpes is fairly common, it’s highly stigmatized, in large part because there is no cure.
But why is there no vaccine or cure for one of the most feared (and common) STIs? And have we gotten any closer to discovering one?
Here’s what we discovered after chatting with experts.
WHAT IS HERPES?
There are two main types of herpes: oral herpes and genital herpes. Oral is caused by herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and is the virus that causes cold sores. It is extremely common: in fact, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. estimates that roughly 48% of Americans between 14–49 years old have oral herpes. People with oral herpes typically get the virus as children by kissing family members or friends.
By contrast, genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), which is typically transmitted via anal, vaginal, or oral sex. HSV-2 can result in an outbreak of blisters on the genitals or rectum, but many people can also be asymptomatic. Genital herpes can also be caused by HSV-1 through oral sex. Transmission for both types can occur with or without sores as herpes can be released, or shed, through skin cells.
WHY IS THERE NO CURE FOR HERPES?
Currently, there is no cure for either HSV-1 or HSV-2, though people with both types of herpes can take antiviral medications like Valtrex to control their symptoms and reduce their risk of transmitting the virus to their partners.
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