A new study by researchers in Seattle shows that herpes infections are common among lesbians, with nearly half of the lesbians studied testing positive for herpes simplex virus-1, which causes cold sores, and about 8% infected with the type-2 strain that causes genital infections, Reuters Health reports. The study, conducted by researchers at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, is the first to specifically examine herpes prevalence among lesbians and bisexual women, whom many doctors previously believed were at low risk for the infections.
Lead researcher Jeanne Marrazzo and colleagues took the medical and sexual histories of 257 lesbians and tested the women for HSV-1 and HSV-2. Although a high percentage of lesbians were shown to be infected with either one or both herpes strains, most did not show overt symptoms of infection--only 30% of the women testing positive for HSV-1 infection had a history of cold sores, and only 9% of the women testing positive for HSV-2 had experienced an outbreak of genital herpes. However, the viruses can be passed between women regardless of whether symptoms are present, particularly through oral sex. The researchers say that because lesbians are as likely--or perhaps even more likely--than heterosexual women to be infected with herpes, doctors should thoroughly screen their lesbian patients for the infections. "Providers should really assume nothing when a woman says, 'I'm a lesbian' --at least in terms of prior viral sexually transmitted disease acquisition--until a more complete history is taken," Marrazzo says.