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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 20, 2003

UI Physician Raises Awareness About Herpes

It is a prevalent disease, but nearly 90 percent of people affected by it do not know they have it. That is one of the sobering statistics associated with genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease that affects one in five adults in the United States and is the focus of Herpes Awareness Week, Nov. 16-22. The week is sponsored by the American Social Health Association.

Kevin Ault, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and a practitioner with UI Hospitals and Clinics, is involved in herpes clinical and research activities. Ault will lead the UI portion of "Herpevac Trial for Women," a joint project between the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institutes of Health. The clinical trial, which will begin in a few weeks, will investigate a potential vaccine for the prevention of genital herpes.

"It has been a big year for efforts in preventing and controlling herpes," Ault said. "In efforts to advance prevention, there is this new vaccine trial. Earlier this year, the FDA approved an anti-herpes drug that is designed to prevent people with herpes from giving the disease to a partner who does not have it."

Genital herpes is usually caused by herpes simplex virus-2 and can affect the genital region, causing skin irritations of the anus, vagina and penis. Oral herpes is usually caused by herpes simplex virus-1 and causes cold sores around the mouth.

Most people with genital herpes -- nearly nine of 10 -- do not know they have the virus because they are asymptomatic. This means that they have the disease but do not experience the sores and pain that can severely affect other people with herpes, or their symptoms are so mild they are mistaken for other ailments.

Findings published this year by investigators at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School show that the genital herpes rate is high in affluent suburban populations -- about one-in-three for patients in their 40s.

Ault said that while herpes may be widespread, there are several things to consider if a person wants to be tested for the STD. For the person who has herpes-like symptoms, testing can confirm that herpes actually is causing the problems. For a person who is asymptomatic but has known exposure to a partner who has herpes, the test also may be useful.

" The strongest argument for testing people is patient empowerment. Women and men may want to know their status," Ault said. "If they're concerned, they can find out. A very useful area for testing is in monogamous situations where one partner may have herpes and one wants to know their status.

"For people who aren't in monogamous relationships, knowing your status adds some degree of honesty to your relationships. Even if you're asymptomatic, it doesn't mean that the person to whom you could transmit the disease will be asymptomatic," he added.

Condoms offer protection against transmitting herpes from one partner to another. In the past decade, drugs developed to control herpes symptoms have become more effective.

For more information about the American Social Health Association (ASHA) visit its web site www.ashastd.org. The site includes "Four Tough Questions about Genital Herpes in the United States" at www.ashastd.org/news/resources.html and a comprehensive listing of STDS at www.ashastd.org/stdfaqs/index.htm.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at http://www.uihealthcare.com.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT: Media Only: Becky Soglin, Writer, 319-335-6660, becky-soglin@uiowa.edu