Two-thirds of the world’s population under 50 years have the highly infectious herpes virus that causes cold sores around the mouth, the World Health Organization said on wednesday in its first estimate of the global prevalence of the disease.
More than 3.7 billion people under 50 suffer from herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), generally after their capture in childhood, according to a WHO study.
That’s in addition to 417 million people in the 17-49 age range who have the other form of the disease, HSV-2, which causes genital herpes.
HSV-1 usually causes mouth ulcers instead of genital infection, but it is becoming a growing cause of genital infection too, mainly in rich countries.
This is because improved hygiene in rich countries is decreasing rates of HSV-1 infection in childhood, leaving young people at greater risk of being caught orally when they become sexually active.
HSV-2 can increase the risk of spreading and spread of HIV, the disease that causes AIDS. Little is known about any relationship between HSV-1 and HIV / AIDS, although it can lead to other serious complications such as encephalitis.
“We really need to accelerate the development of herpes simplex virus vaccines and if a vaccine designed to prevent HSV-2 infection also prevents HSV-1, it would have far-reaching benefits,” said Sami Gottlieb, a WHO physician.
Nathalie Broutet, also a WHO medical officer, said the US National Institutes of Health and companies such as GlaxoSmithKline Plc participated in trials to determine whether a preventative or therapeutic vaccine was preferable.
Gottlieb said that GSK had previously abandoned a vaccine trial after finding the product was not effective against HSV-2, although it demonstrated some effectiveness against HSV-1.
“That was interesting and promising and gave a proof of concept that these vaccines can be developed. There is a lot of work going on and we are hopeful that we will have an HSV vaccine in the future,” he said.
Several phase 1 and phase 2 trials were underway, he said. Genocea Biosciences Inc. recently stopped working on a pneumonia vaccine in favor of its most promising work on genital herpes.
Aciclovir (the active ingredient in Zovirax) belongs to a group of medicines called “antivirals”. Zovirax works by stopping the production of the herpes virus. This reduces the duration and severity of a herpes outbreak. Zovirax does not get rid of the virus from your body.