We received an email from someone in the midwest who said a topic of discussion on a local FM talk station was the high prevalence of genital herpes in the area. We didn’t hear what transpired (nor have we seen a transcript) but apparently a caller posed the question as to whether other listeners have encountered such “dirty” people in their lives.
I sent an email to several folks at the station and, after acknowledging we didn’t hear the broadcast and were working with second-hand information, gave some insight about the emotional wallop that usually accompanies a herpes diagnosis.
ASHA staff does this sort of thing quite often, that is, following-up with a late night television show or a radio station after someone makes a wise-acre crack about herpes. We try not to be overly sensitive to have a knee-jerk response to every off-handed comment we hear about and, when we do choose to respond, rather than scolding or haranguing we favor of an approach that couples a plea for sensitivity with some quick talking points about the psychosocial impact of HSV. In our communication with this particular station, we wrote:
“Regardless of what you do with this email, I dearly urge you to consider how painful a “dirty” reference is to anyone coping with a herpes diagnosis. Such a label is truly undeserved and undermines years of hard won public health gains in this area.”
The stigma that surrounds genital herpes is one of the most impactful aspects of the infection, often much worse than the medical implications. This goes back many decades and even today can hinder patients and health care providers from having the open, frank discussions that are needed about not only herpes, but sexual health in general. Fortunately, the emotional toll is most often short-lived and most folks get on with their lives (including relationships and sex) just fine.
HSV is probably more common than you think. It’s estimated that about 17% of adults in the U.S. have HSV-2 (which is usually a genital infection), although as many as 85% aren’t aware. HSV is found in all areas of the U.S. and across all demographics. In fact, even those with very few partners are at risk for herpes and other STIs.
Interested in exploring this with us? Visit our online HSV Forum to let us know what you think.