Here at Get Learned, I’m all about dispelling myths and demystifying the world of science for ya’ll. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of microbes, and I’m also a big fan of sexual education. So it naturally follows that I’ma do a series about sexually transmitted infections, starting with herpes!
Note: Previously, STIs were called STDs; sexually transmitted diseases. We moved to calling them STIs because “disease” implies there are symptoms of illness; a lot of sexually transmitted infections don’t actually have any symptoms, they are asymptomatic.
Great, herpa derpa herpes. Herpes is a viral disease caused by a tiny wee virus called herpes simplex virus. Now, there are two types of this virus. Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 commonly infects the mouth area, causing cold sores, however it can infect other areas too. HSV-2 is the type of virus more commonly associated with genital infection.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m also a big fan of the etymology of words, especially in science. Often where the word is rooted tells us a lot about what the actual thing does. Case and point, herpes in Latin means “to creep.” No, it’s not a white-van candy virus, this refers to the fact that herpes virus infection is what we call latent. This means once you’re infected, you remain infected for life, but you don’t always display symptoms. One of my favourite first year lecturers was this jolly Irishman who declared at the beginning of a lecture,
“I have herpes, and you’ll see it later in the semester!”
What he meant was that he was infected with HSV-1, which causes cold sores around the mouth. Later in the semester when he got more stressed, he would get symptoms of this infection in the form of visible cold sores on his face. This is what it means to be latently infected with a virus; the virus is constantly chillin’ in your body, just hangin’, not doing much, kept at bay by your immune system. When you get stressed out or you get a cold or get run down, the virus takes the opportunity when your immune system isn’t working so well or is distracted, and causes cold sores.
Same deal with HSV-2, if you have an infection around your genitals. Generally it’s asymptomatic, but sometimes you might have an outbreak, which manifests as blisters around the genital areas. Here’s the sexual side of things; HSV spreads through bodily fluid contact or contact with herpes blisters. It’s why you shouldn’t kiss someone with a cold sore. Women are more susceptible to herpes virus infection, which makes the advertising image later in the post super dumb and a classic example of misogyny 🙂
Some statistics for ya. 90% of the world are infected with either HSV-1 or HSV-2. 90%. That’s like, most people. That’s a clear majority. 16% of the world is infected with HSV-2, and between 60-95% of the world is infected with HSV-1, depending on where/which socio-economic class you’re in.
In terms of transmission, there is a 30% reduction in risk when condoms are used during sex between an infected and non-infected person. Which is a pretty crappy reduction, but it’s because herpes is a skin infection. Generally other bits of skin touch when sexytimes are had, so condoms don’t do a great job of preventing spread. It’s easier to transmit from an infected male to an infected female. But still the likelyhood of a male transmitting HSV-2 to a female is only 8-11%. And female to male is only 4-5%. So an infected female is less likely to transmit the infection to a male, than an infected male to a female.
Guys. Infection with herpes ISN’T A BIG DEAL. It wasn’t until the 1970s that people started to stigmatise herpes. What happened was, this anti-viral drug was made, and people were like “great, but we don’t need it.” And then the people who made it were like “YES YOU DO WHAT ABOUT THE HERPES YOU HAVE OOO IT’S BAD EVEN THOUGH IT’S LARGELY ASYMPTOMIATIC AND CAUSES VERY LITTLE HARM AND BASICALLY NO DEATHS BUT STILL OOOO BUGS ARE BAD KILL THEM ALL BUY OUR DRUG” and people were like “Oh ok” because they hadn’t read my blog about herpes because I wasn’t born yet.
Then there’s the whole “sexually pure virgin until marriage sex is bad the clitoris is a button put onto women by the devil to send you straight to hell” thing that also helped stigmatise herpes infection as REALLY REALLY BAD when it isn’t. Historically, herpes has been known for at least 2000 years. In fact, it was considered a “vocational disease of women” in the 18th century, for ladies of the night. It’s only since that drug company figured out they could make money out of stigmatising herpes that it became a big deal. It ain’t. Most people have it, it doesn’t cause many issues when you have an outbreak, and the rest of the time it’s not symptomatic. Just chill.
Okay cool thanks for reading friends. Any ideas on posts feel free to message me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/getlearnedweb/ , I wanna know what you wanna know!
Stay tuned and GET LEARNED!