Herpes Statistics: How Common is Genital Herpes?

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People are often surprised to learn how common genital herpes (HSV-2) is. And looking at the data, about 48 million Americans would be in for a more personal “surprise” if they got tested for it today. To what extent is herpes common? Read on for genital herpes statistics that may surprise you. Fortunately, herpes is highly manageable and people who get it can still have healthy love and sex lives, as the data also shows. These numbers focus mainly on United States genital herpes statistics, and account for genital herpes caused by the HSV-2 strain.

Medically reviewed by Meagan Fleming, RN on Jan. 1, 2019 — Written by Editorial Staff

infographic with women and men who have herpes

How many people have genital herpes?

  • About one out of six people in the United States has genital herpes.
  • That’s about 55 million people in the United States who have genital herpes.
  • 87-90% of people with genital herpes don’t know they have it.
  • That’s more than 48 million Americans who are unaware they have genital herpes.
  • Genital herpes is the second most prevalent viral STD after HPV.

Planned Parenthood states that 1 in 6 Americans has genital herpes (1). According to the American Sexual Health Organization, close to 90% of Americans don’t know they have genital herpes (2). And according to the CDC, the statistic of infected people who don’t know is 87.4% (3).


Men vs. Women with genital herpes

  • About 23.5% of women have genital herpes caused by HSV-2 (4).
  • About 11.5% of men have genital herpes according to CNN (5).

Symptoms and Outbreaks

  • A study showed that of infected women, 60% had never had any symptoms or outbreaks (6).
  • The average number of outbreaks in those who have them is 4 or 5 outbreaks per year. However, some people only have one or two outbreaks and never experience one again (7).
  •  Asymptomatic carriers, those without outbreaks, can still spread herpes, though usually half as often as those who have symptoms (8).

Transmission rates

  • The likelihood of passing genital herpes to a partner is highest during an outbreak (times when a sore is present).
  • When a person is not experiencing an outbreak, there is a still a chance of transmitting it. Depending on the study, transmission rates when there are no symptoms vary between 4-30%.

According to studies done by Valtrex, these are the rates of transmission per year of regular sex:

  • If partners avoid sex during outbreaks: 4% chance transmission from female to male; 8% male to female
  • If partners also use condoms or antiviral medication: 2% female to male; 4% per year male to female
  • If partners also use condoms and antiviral medications: 1% female to male; 2% male to female

Herpes Statistics in Specific Populations

  • Genital herpes affects more Black than White Americans: 39.2% of the overall Black population, with 48% of Black women affected (9).
  • The largest increasing population is white teenagers (10).
  • One in four American teenagers has an STD.
  • 50-75% of unmarried American women between 45 and 50 have genital herpes (11).
  • Globally, an estimated 417 million people are infected with HSV-2 (12).

How Common is Oral Herpes? HSV-1 Statistics

Though this article focuses on genital herpes, oral herpes is extremely common and is a side note that puts it in perspective.

  • 50-80% of Americans have oral herpes (HSV-1).

Conclusions

The big takeaways from these numbers are that:

1. Herpes is more common than many might think, and a lot of people are unaware they are infected and may not even have symptoms to tip them off. Unfortunately, when clinicians give “standard” STD check-ups, they don’t include tests for HSV-1 or HSV-2, unless it is specifically requested. This only exacerbates herpes’ prevalence and the ignorance around it.

2. Many couples have a healthy sex life and still never transmit it to the uninfected partner. Taking precautions like avoiding sex during and around the time of an outbreak, using condoms and taking antiviral medication like Valocyclovir (Valtrex) or Acyclovir drastically reduces the likelihood of transmission. The statistics indicate that it’s possible to get your chances of transmitting HSV-2 down to as low as 2.1% with condoms and antiviral medications.

3. Take charge of your sexual health and get regularly screened for STDs. You can specifically request a herpes test if the practitioner does not include it in standard checkups. You can order a confidential STD test from STDCheck.

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Note: Not all genital herpes statistics are consistent from study to study. Most say 25% of American women have the virus, and 20% of American males. Other studies show slightly lower numbers. The studies with slightly lower numbers refer to people from 14 to 49, while the higher number studies are based on all people over 12. This is the reason, at least to the best of our knowledge.

  1. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/herpes
  2. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/herpes/signs-symptoms/
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats17/other.htm#ref7
  4. https://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa10/hstat/hi/pages/223sti.html
  5. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/03/10/genital.herpes/index.html
  6. http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/testing-asymptomatic-herpes
  7. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/herpes/signs-symptoms/
  8. http://www.webmd.com/genital-herpes/news/20110412/genital-herpes-silent-spread
  9. http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/03/10/genital.herpes/index.html
  10. http://www.globalherbalsupplies.com/herpes/stats.html
  11. http://www.npr.org/2011/04/15/135442942/even-without-symptoms-genital-herpes-can-spread
  12. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=896698
JH
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