The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics say that approximately 17% of all Americans ages 14-49 have herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2, usually associated with genital herpes), but among African-Americans the rate is more than doubled. Black women are especially hit hard, with nearly half in this study found to have HSV-2.
More than a few eyebrows arched when this was released in March, and the report only begs the question as to why such a gap exists. Kevin Fenton, MD, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, wrote an essay for NewsOne.com that provides some insight.
He points out that social factors, not greater individual risk behaviors, are likely responsible for the disparities seen with rates of HSV-2. African-Americans are more likely to seek partners within their own communities, for example, and the many ills affecting the underserved (including lack of access to health care) put these communities at much higher risks for all STIs to begin with. While STIs are common across the board in all groups, the double-whammy of poverty and being marginalized puts many communities of color at higher risk.
Genital herpes is an important public health issue for a number of reasons, not the least of which (as Dr. Fenton notes) is that having genital HSV increases the risks of contracting HIV, if exposed. Herpes usually doesn’t cause symptoms that are readily noticed or identified. The result is a majority (about 85%) of those with the virus are undiagnosed and unaware.
Deborah Arrindell, ASHA Vice President of Health Policy, says it’s important to know the facts. “As an African-American woman, I find this data especially troubling. My first concern is that Black women will be stigmatized. Given the health consequences of herpes and other sexually transmitted infections, we need information like this. I applaud Dr. Fenton for pointing out that there are factors other than behavior at work. This is challenging information to digest – but potentially life-saving.”
I encourage you to visit NewsOne.com to read Dr. Fenton’s comments. Also, be sure to leave a comment here to let us know what you think.
~Fred Wyand (aka “Fredo”)
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