Research published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases shows that fewer U.S. teens today have been exposed to the cold sore-causing herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) than adolescents in the past. By the time they become sexually active, their bodies lack the antibodies to fight off the virus.
HSV-1 and a related virus, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), both cause lifelong infections with no known cure, that can go through dormant periods after an initial outbreak.
Most people contract HSV-1 in childhood, through skin-to-skin contact with an infected adult. HSV-2 is usually transmitted sexually.
"HSV-1 now is the predominant herpes strain causing genital infection," Dr. David Kimberlin, chair of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine explained to HealthDay News.
According to Kimberlin, the new findings suggest that almost 1 in 10 adolescents who, a decade ago would have already acquired HSV-1 and built up some immunity, may now encounter HSV-1 when they first become sexually active. That could leave them more susceptible to genital herpes than young people were in the past.
HSV-1 has been seen increasingly as the cause of genital herpes in industrialized countries, with one study revealing that up to 60 percent of genital herpes cases were due to HSV-1.
A shift by young people toward participation in oral sex might help explain the trend, experts said to WebMD, since the herpes virus can easily be transmitted from the mouth to the genitals.
“Every year the proportion of patients who get infected with HSV-1 through oral sex is increasing," Dr. Marcelo Laufer, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Miami Children's Hospital said to Daily Mail.
The virus is usually passed through saliva, but in more recent years better hygiene may have kept the virus from spreading to young children, Laufer theorized to WebMD. That means that fewer children are now exposed and are producing antibodies against HSV.
In the study, a team of researchers led by Heather Bradley of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used data from federal government surveys to track the prevalence of herpes among 14- to 49-year-olds in the United States. Overall, they found that 54 percent of Americans in this age range were infected with HSV-1.
There was a 23 percent decline in prevalence of HSV-1 antibodies during the 2005-2010 period in teens aged 14-19 compared to those studied in the 1999-2004 period. During the same time periods, HSV-1 seroprevalence declined by more than 9 percent for 20-29 year olds. Numbers remained about the same for those in their 30s and 40s.
"More US Teens Susceptible to HSV-1 Infection, a Cause of Genital Herpes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
"Teens more prone to contracting herpes than before, says study." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
"Today's teenagers are more likely to get genital herpes because they were 'sheltered' from cold sores as children." Mail Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
"U.S. Teens More Vulnerable to Genital Herpes, Study Suggests." U.S. Teens More Vulnerable to Genital Herpes, Study Suggests. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
"U.S. Teens More Vulnerable to Genital Herpes, Study Suggests – WebMD." WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2013.
Reviewed November 7, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith