Herpes Impacts Women’s Reproductive Health

Genital or Oral Herpes cases exceed 1 billion
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A new study estimates about half a billion people are living with genital herpes, and several billion have oral herpes infections around the world.

Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections are lifelong and characterized by periodic reactivations. Symptomatic and asymptomatic viral shedding is common for both types of herpes. 

Thus, infected individuals can be asymptomatic, yet infectious, allowing these viruses to be transmitted unknowingly. This attribute contributes to the large global prevalence of herpes infections.

And this study reports HSV type 2 (HSV-2) infections disproportionately affected women.

This insight means that HSV has a substantial effect on the sexual and reproductive health of millions of people worldwide.

Published by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 1, 2020, these European researchers highlight the need to improve the awareness of products to prevent and treat herpes cases.

This study estimates around 491 million people currently living with HSV-2 infection, 3.5 billion with oral HSV type 1 (HSV-1) infection, and 122 million –192 million with genital HSV-1, in those up to 49 years of age.

Herpes Overview 

HSV type 1 (HSV01) is primarily transmitted by oral-to-oral contact and cause orolabial herpes, which is commonly known as cold sores.

Type 1 virus also causes rarer conditions, such as keratitis and other ocular sequelae, and encephalitis.

HSV-1 genital infection from oral-to-genital contact is becoming increasingly common, although reactivations are less frequent than for HSV-2.

HSV-2 is almost entirely sexually transmitted, causing genital herpes.

Genital HSV infection may be unrecognized or result in painful genital ulcer disease in a proportion of those infected. 

Neonates can acquire HSV infection from genitally infected mothers during birth and from oral contact with caregivers postnatally.

Neonatal infection, although rare, has a high fatality and disability rate in surviving infants. There is no cure for herpes today, says the WHO.

Herpes treatments 

Most herpes infections are self-limited and treatment is not always indicated or necessary. 

The current WHO guidelines provide 6 treatment recommendations for genital HSV infections.  A summary of recommendations for genital HSV infection treatments can be found here

There are intravenous, oral, and topical antiviral herpes medications, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, that can help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms.

Herpes Vaccine Candidates 

As of May 2, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any herpes preventive vaccine. However, after many years of research, various herpes vaccine candidates are making progress to FDA approval. 

These herpes vaccine candidates include, but are not limited to the following list:

  • HSV529 is a vaccine candidate that is classified as a replication-defective virus, where the virus possesses all the components of the wild-type HSV virus with the exception of two proteins UL5 and UL29 that are involved in viral DNA replication.
  • EXD-12 vaccine candidate is currently in preclinical testing for safety and efficacy as both a prophylactic and therapeutic vaccine for both Herpes Simplex Virus-1, HSV-1, and Herpes Simplex Virus-2, HSV-2.
  • GSK’s HSV Vaccine or SB208141 is in a double-blind, randomized, controlled phase 3 clinical study to assess the prophylactic efficacy and safety of gD-Alum/MPL vaccine in the prevention of genital herpes disease in young women who are herpes simplex virus (HSV)-1 and -2 seronegative.

This new study was funded by the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, via support from the United States NIH (U01 AI108543).

The researchers reported these competing interests: KJL reports grants from WHO during the conduct of the study and outside the submitted work. KJL and KMET report a grant from GSK outside the submitted work. NJW reports grants from the National Institute for Health Research during the conduct of the study and grants from Pfizer Ltd outside the submitted work. SLG reports grants from NIH during the conduct of the study.

Herpes vaccine development news published by Precision Vaccinations.