The latest news out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is very troubling, to say the least.
A jaw-dropping 48 percent of black women between ages 14 and 49 have the virus which causes genital herpes, says the federal agency. Blacks in general are more than three times as likely as whites to have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) (39.2 percent vs. 12.3 percent).
Why is it so much higher among black women? It is likely that biological factors make women more susceptible to genital herpes than men, says the CDC. American women in general are nearly twice as likely as men to be infected (21 percent vs. 11 percent). Then add on top of that socioeconomic factors that negatively affect blacks' general state of health, and it's no surprise that black women draw the short straw when it comes to getting genital herpes.
What's worse, most don't even know they've drawn that short straw. Up to 80 percent of genital herpes infections in the United States are undiagnosed. "Many individuals are transmitting herpes to others without even knowing it," said John M. Douglas Jr., director of CDC's division of STD prevention. "It is important that persons with symptoms suggestive of herpes-especially recurrent sores in the genital area-seek clinical care to determine if these symptoms may be due to herpes and might benefit from treatment."
Sores aren't the only sign you've been infected, and many people don't even experience them. Redness and itching are other symptoms, and the disease can still be transmitted without visible sores.
The high rate of genital herpes infections among blacks may contribute toward the high rate of HIV in the black community by making transmission easier, says the CDC.
So what do we do? If you know you have genital herpes, you definitely should avoid sex when symptoms or sores are present. Remember that genital herpes can still be transmitted when sores are not present. Using condoms consistently and correctly, and limiting the number of people you have sex with are also important to limiting the spread of the disease.
For more information on the disease, check out the CDC's genital herpes fact sheet.
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is deputy editor of The Root.