Oh, You Don’t Have Herpes? What’s That Like?

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Photo: ScienceVU/Corbis

The World Health Organization is two for two this week in news that people don't want to hear: First, they tell us that delicious processed meats are carcinogenic, and now we learn that two-thirds of people under 50 on this majestic planet have herpes. Anyone who's someone has it!

In a study published yesterday in the journal Plos One, the WHO determined that 3.7 billion people worldwide have herpes simplex type 1, the incurable virus that's known for producing cold sores, while another 417 million people under 50 have herpes simplex type 2, which can cause genital and anal sores. But the HSV-1 strain can also cause genital herpes when transmitted via oral sex. It's kind of like HPV, in that way, but the big difference between the two viruses is that HPV can lead to cancer while herpes is mostly an annoyance that's managed with anti-viral drugs (though there can be complications).

On the bright side: We in the Americas have the lowest rates of HSV-1 prevalence in the world at 49 percent of women and 39 percent of men. But there's basically no way to avoid getting herpes short of avoiding sex altogether. So until we get a vaccine, learn to be at peace with the fact that you will probably get it at some point. But at least you'll have lots of friends to discuss it with.