The cold, sore reality is that more than 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 are infected with herpes simplex virus type I, according to the World Health Organization’s first global estimates of the virus, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.
Herpes is categorized into two types: herpes virus type I and herpes virus type II. Herpes type I is mostly spread through oral contact and often shows up as “cold sores,” but it can spread to the genitals through oral sex. Herpes type II is almost always sexually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, causing genital herpes.
There are support resources on campus for students affected by the disease, women’s health practitioner at University Health Services Cindy McAllister said.
“The student health center can give students information, test them for STDs and counsel them on managing the virus and protecting themselves and others,” McAllister said. “The take-away is for students to know oral herpes can be sexually transmitted and students must practice safer sex.”
It is hard to tell how many students have the disease because many do not come forward, but it is likely common because of a lack of awareness and a stigma on campus, nursing junior Paige Gilmer said.
“I think the statistics are so high because people do see oral sex has harmless compared to normal sex, so they don’t take any precautions,” Gilmer said. “Also it is spread so easily. There’s also a huge social stigma of all STDs, so people aren’t always honest about it and may not tell their partner.”
Both types of herpes are highly infectious and incurable, but they can be treated through antivirals. Students must take the high-risk disease seriously, Dr. Marleen Temmerman, director of the organization’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said.
“Access to education and information on both types of herpes and sexually transmitted infections is critical to protect young people’s health before they become sexually active,” Temmerman said in a news release.
Students must take responsibility and alter their behavior and contact with others in order to prevent receiving the virus and to prevent spreading it, nursing junior Allie Edgerly said.
“I think herpes type I is so common because its basically spread through secretions (saliva), so when students kiss or share drinks it is easily passed from person to person.” Edgerly said in an email. “While it is not as common genitally as type II herpes, it is prevalent because people don’t know that they have the virus, when they are most likely to transmit the infection, and because they fail to take action once they have the disease.”
Correction: Herpes simplex virus type 1 can be treated with antivirals, not antibiotics, as previously stated.