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More than Half the World has Herpes

Update Date: Oct 28, 2015 07:41 PM EDT

More than half of the world's population under the age of 50 has herpes, the World Health Organization estimates.

Two-thirds of the world's under-50 population, or more than 3.7 billion people, have herpes simplex virus Type 1 (HSV-1), which causes cold sores around the mouth, Reuters reported.

That does not include the 419 million people under age 50 who have herpes simplex virus Type 2, more commonly known as genital herpes.

HSV-1 is increasingly a cause of HSV-2, particularly in richer countries because better oral hygiene in these countries means that children are less likely to get HSV-1, which increases the likelihood they will contract HSV-2 through oral sex, the WHO said.

HSV-2 is dangerous because it can increase the likelihood of catching and spreading HIV, although the exact relationship between the two diseases is still not entirely understood.

In the wake of the report, a WHO official has said that it is important that a vaccine for both types of herpes virus is discovered and developed.

The U.S. Institutes of Health and major pharmaceutical maker GlaxoSmithKline are currently involved in such research. GlaxoSmithKline was relatively far along in the process but stopped devoting resources to a product it had developed when it was discovered that the vaccine did not prevent HSV-2.

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