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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday that the figures are in on herpes, and they are not great. According to the organization, 67% of all people under 50—3.7 billion worldwide—suffer from the herpes simplex virus type-1, or HSV-1. That's the strain that results in cold sores.

An additional 417 million people between the ages of 17 and 49 have HSV-2, which does cause genital herpes.

WHO reports, however, that HSV-1 can sometimes lead to HSV-2, especially in wealthier countries, where children are less likely to contract HSV-1:

HSV-1 is also an important cause of genital herpes…. Fewer people in high-income countries are becoming infected with HSV-1 as children, likely due to better hygiene and living conditions, and are instead at risk of contracting it genitally through oral sex after they become sexually active.


As of 2012, when WHO collected the data,  about 178 million women and 142 million men in the Americas were infected with HSV-1. That amounts to 49% of women in the Americas, and 39% of men.

Full results can be found in an article published in PLOS ONE Wednesday.


In light of the findings, WHO is calling for a renewed effort to find a herpes cure. “The new estimates highlight the crucial need for countries to improve data collection for both HSV types and sexually transmitted infections in general,” said WHO's Dr. Marleen Temmerman. Godspeed.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.