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The World Health Organization suggests that more people now than ever before are contracting genital herpes from oral sex.
The United Nations health agency’s first global estimate for the virus, published Wednesday in the multidisciplinary open access journal Plos One, reveals that two-thirds of the world’s population under the age of 50 have herpes in its oral form. That number comes out to over 3.7 billion people affected with the virus.
Furthermore, WHO believes approximately 140 million people, primarily in wealthier countries, have been infected genitally by the virus. The organization believes that herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1), the virus associated with cold sores on a person’s lips, may thus be a significant contributor to genital herpes.
Herpes simplex type 1 is an incurable and highly contagious virus that is often contracted by contact with the skin, including through the act of kissing. Those infected will usually exhibit symptoms of cold sores on the mouth, but sometimes none at all.
WHO estimates another 417 million people from the ages of 17 to 49 are infected with herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2), a sexually transmitted disease that causes sores around the genitals. Though HSV-2 was originally thought to be the main cause of genital sores, HSV-1 is now increasingly causing genital sores too.
This upward trend has been especially prevalent in the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific.