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Worldwide Prevalence of Oral Herpes Poses Infection Prevention Challenge

More than 3.7 billion people under age 50 are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).


A report from the World Health Organization (WHO) serves as a reminder to oral health professionals that more than 3.7 billion people under age 50 are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). This represents 67% of this patient population. Published in PLOS ONE, it’s the first global estimate of its kind by the organization, which notes that prevalence varies by region. In 2012, HSV-1 rates ranged from as high as 87% of men and women in Africa to as low as 49% of women and 39% of men in the Americas.

While HSV-1 is primarily transmitted via oral contact, the other form of the disease, herpes simplex virus type 2, often known as genital herpes, is sexually transmitted. Both viruses are highly infectious. The concern for dental professionals is one of infection prevention when treating patients with oral herpes, especially those with active lesions. In such cases, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that only emergency dental treatment be rendered until the lesions heal.

0316-newsline-4Clinicians are advised to take adequate protective measures because HSV strains can linger for hours on surfaces such as countertops and handpieces, and in fluids outside the body. In concert with global partners, WHO researchers are working to accelerate the development of HSV vaccines and topical microbicides that could play a major role in preventing future infections.

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