Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle report that an analysis of more than 30 studies from around the world shows that infection with genital herpes puts people at twice the risk for HIV infection. Genital herpes is caused by infection with the incurable herpes simplex type-2 virus, which is very common in gay men--about 30% of HIV-negative gay men are infected with HSV-2, and about 70% of HIV-positive men carry the infection. Only 15%-20% of gay men infected with herpes are aware of it. Herpes makes HIV infection easier because the open lesions associated with the sexually transmitted disease can serve as portals for HIV to easily enter or exit the body. HIV transmission is also easier even when no visible sores are present.
The researchers plan to study the effect of daily medications used to shorten herpes outbreaks in preventing HIV infections in 1,800 gay and bisexual men with herpes in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and two cities in Peru. "If suppressing HSV-2 proves effective for preventing new HIV infections, it will be a prevention measure that is safe, cheap, well-tolerated, readily available, and has immediate relevance," said researcher Connie Celum. The study will get under way later this year.