Sexually transmitted diseases are a topic that no one really talks about. We’re forced into these awkward (and sometimes pretty gross) conversations in our sex education classes at school, but it’s hard to get that information to stick when teens are far more likely to crack a joke than engage with something they find so embarrassing. And that’s if the lessons they are given are actually informative in the first place.
So by time we get to adulthood, there are plenty of people out there who don’t understand basic concepts of our biology, which includes the prospect of STDs. One of the main reasons they get spread is people don’t have the understanding or access to contraception, but things may be even more difficult to figure out than you would think.
In fact, there is one disease which a huge amount of the world’s population is suffering from, whether they know it or not. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, two-thirds of people under the age of 50 are believed to have the herpes virus, and it only gets more complicated when you take into account that there aren’t always visible signs such as sores, with some carrying the virus not exhibiting any symptoms at all.
There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The first type is better known as oral herpes, which is often identifiable by cold sores on the lips or mouth. Spread through kissing or sharing lip balm, they can be painful, uncomfortable, and don’t exactly look great, but at least they don’t last long. It can also be spread by oral sex, transmitting the HSV-1 virus to your genitals.
On the other hand, HSV-2 (or genital herpes) is primarily transmitted during sex. The symptoms can include sores, itching, burning sensation – not just on your genitals but on your rear and upper thighs. On top of this passing urine can be painful and you can get flu-like symptoms. Neither of these two types have a vaccine yet, but they can be prevented and treated.
The centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 400 million people in the world have one of these two types, with only 15% of them showing symptoms. The virus waits until a trigger causes it to bring about symptoms. High levels of sun exposure, specifically ultraviolet-B rays, can start it up. Also high levels of cortisol, the hormone produced when we are stressed, can trigger the disease.
Unfortunately, even testing can be inaccurate, as if you don’t have any visible symptoms you may get a false positive in a blood test. You are meant to wait 12-16 weeks after your last (risky) sexual encounter before getting tested, which is how long it may take for the antibodies to appear. If you do get visible symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor within two days of spotting it, otherwise the results may become inaccurate.
There aren’t any vaccines for it, though scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York recently found a way to cure it in mice, saying they are a few years away from human trials. Maybe within the next decade this STD will become a thing of the past.