Study: Herpes Contagious Even When Symptoms Aren't Present
Even when they don't show any visible signs of infection, people with genital herpes can spread the virus to their sexual partners. Herpes affects 16 percent of adults in the United States, but only 10 to 25 percent experience symptoms, such as painful blisters and sores. University of Washington researchers instructed nearly 500 infected adults to collect swabs of genital secretions each day for about two months, while also keeping a diary of symptoms. Those who showed outward signs of the virus were twice as likely to "shed" contagious amounts as those who were infected but had no symptoms, according to findings published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. However, active virus was detected at least once in 68 percent of symptom-free people, suggesting that even these patients are also highly contagious and could unknowingly pass the virus to others. "Most people, when they shed, do not have any symptoms," study author Christine Johnston told Reuters. "We would like to push for a discussion of the risks and benefits of screening."
Condom Use Lowest...Among Adults Over 40?
Maybe it's time teens gave their parents—and grandparents—a sex talk. Condom use declines with age, research suggests, and adolescents are more likely than any other age group to engage in safe sex. It is adults over 40 who seem to have the strongest aversion to condoms, according to a large study whose first round of findings were published last October in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
"When we talk about sex and sexual health, we often focus on young people," says New York-based sexologist Logan Levkoff, who was not involved in the study. "Teens are so often portrayed as being irresponsible and promiscuous, even though that's not the case. One of the trickle-down effects is this perception by older adults that they don't need to use condoms, that sexually transmitted infections are for young people. But sexual health has to be ongoing."
Pregnancy may be less of an issue in middle age and beyond, but condom use is not just about pregnancy, say the researchers who spearheaded the study. It's also about sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, another term for sexually transmitted diseases. STIs are no respecter of age. Yet more than 90 percent of men over 50 didn't use a condom when they last had sex with a date or casual acquaintance, and 70 percent didn't do so when they had sex with a stranger. Among women over 50, a majority also report having sex without a condom. By contrast, 70 to 80 percent of teens say they used a condom during their last sexual encounter. All age groups were more likely to use condoms with casual partners than in monogamous relationships. [Read more: Condom Use Lowest...Among Adults Over 40?]
Don't Ignore the Symptoms: Sexual Problems, STDs Affect Millions
Since sexually transmitted diseases often are announced only by nonspecific signs (like abdominal pain and fever), they may easily be mistaken for other illnesses. That's not good, experts say: Certain STDs, undiagnosed and untreated, can wreak havoc, bringing serious and even life-threatening consequences. Here's a list of nine serious STDs—and one that's just a nuisance:
1. Chlamydia. Nicknamed the "silent disease," chlamydia often does its damage unnoticed; indeed, it produces virtually no symptoms in about half the men and three quarters of the women who get it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that can mean trouble, especially for women: Infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and dangerous ectopic pregnancies can result if the infection isn't stopped with antibiotics. While men rarely experience complications, the infection can spread to the tube that shuttles sperm, leading to pain, fever, and a remote chance of sterility. Once a woman has been infected with chlamydia, she is up to five times more likely to contract HIV if exposed to the virus. To avoid serious problems, the CDC urges—at a minimum—annual screening tests for all sexually active women ages 25 and under, as well as tests for all pregnant women. A mother's untreated chlamydia infections can invade a newborn's eyes and respiratory tract, which is why it's the leading cause of pink eye and pneumonia in infants, according to the CDC.