Last week I had a heated debate with a friend of mine over what she feels is the nonchalant attitude of physicians over the topic of genital herpes.  I have a colleague, a gynecologist, no less, who feels that testing people who have never had any symptoms of herpes only serves to “ruin their lives”.  I include testing for herpes when patients specifically ask to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends routine testing for patients in high risk groups.  If you live in Purity-ville your chances of having Herpes type 2 is less than if you live in Sexanddrugs-town.

Another point to be made here is that there are people who have been given the diagnoses of herpes and make a conscience choice not to tell their partners, usually because they are afraid of losing someone they love or really like.  Here are some reasons that I’ve heard: “It’s not like it’s life threatening”,  “I’ve never had an outbreak and don’t think that I will” or “I just can’t tell him (or her)”.  Before you weigh in, here are a few facts from the CDC that you should know:

*Eighty one percent (8 out of 10!) of people who have herpes DO NOT KNOW.

*Of blacks between the ages of 40-49, fifty six percent, that’s more than half, of this population have herpes!  For whites in the same age range, 20% have herpes and for Mexicans, 20% have herpes.

The number of sex partners matter.  Yesterday, I met an 18 year woman who had already slept with eight men.

* One third of blacks who have had sex with 2 to 4 partners have herpes.  How many does it take before you are considered a “playa” or a “diva”?  For whites and Mexicans who have had sex with more than two to four partners, only 9% and 13% will have herpes, respectively.

*By the time you get to 10 partners, 49% of blacks will have herpes; for whites who have slept with more than 10 partners, 22% will have herpes and for Mexicans who have slept with more than 10 partners, 13% will have herpes.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  Herpes is prevalent.  Hooking up is ‘in’ and asking direct questions about another’s sexual exposure and history of sexually transmitted diseases has gone out of style.  More women than men have herpes because it’s easier for men to transmit the virus to women.  And if you are a black woman, what should you do, rinse the penis with bleach before you have your fun?  Not that this would help.  And, as a side note, infection with Herpes type-2 makes you more susceptible to acquiring HIV.

Herpes is such an emotional issue, more than a physical one, for many.  But, getting tested, both you and your intended partner, and being open to full disclosure is one reasonable approach, in my humble opinion. At least with knowledge of the infection you can try to avoid spreading it to others, especially if that other is someone you really care about. If you have herpes, use of a condom can provide moderate, not complete, protection for your partner.  Also, talk to you doctor about suppressive therapy, drugs like Valtrex, Acyclovir and Famvir are used to reduce the chances that you will transmit the virus to someone who does not have it and reduce the number of painful outbreaks you have to suffer through.  Lastly, avoid having sex if a lesion is present or if you feel and outbreak coming on.

There it is.  Spread the word!  I’d love to hear what you guys think about this topic.  Please comment or click on Forums (top right hand corner) and start a discussion.

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