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Genital herpes infections and their related complications lead to billions of dollars in health care expenditures and productivity losses globally, say researchers who calculated the first-ever global estimates of the economic costs of these conditions.

World map of the economic burden dur to Herpes Simplex Virus, by WHO region in 2016

Calculating costs in 2016 international dollars (I$), the researchers detailed the associated economic cost estimates for genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections in 194 countries. They estimated the global economic burden of genital HSV-2 and HSV-1 infections to be I$35.3 billion in 2016, with genital HSV-2 accounting for I$31.2 billion of this burden, HSV-1 contributing I$4.0 billion. The Americas and Western Pacific regions accounted for almost two-thirds of the global burden (I$20·8 billion).

 The substantial economic burden was largely driven by the recurrent nature of genital HSV-2 infections. Even with conservative estimates of one symptomatic episode per year per individual, the global costs of genital HSV-2 infections were estimated at I$16.5 billion.

Published in the journal BMC Global and Public Health, the paper, Estimated Global and Regional Economic Burden of Genital Herpes Simplex Virus Infection among 15-49 Years-olds in 2016, calls for greater investment in prevention of herpes transmission, including concerted efforts to develop effective vaccines against this common virus.

Corresponding author Prof Nathorn Chaiyakunapruk, College of Pharmacy, University of Utah Health, Health Economist Puttarin Kulchaitanaroaj, MORU in Bangkok, and their colleagues performed the research in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other academic institutions.

Herpes is caused by infection with one of two types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Around two thirds of world’s population (67%) aged 0-49 have HSV-1, according to the latest published statistics. It is mostly acquired in childhood, spreads by oral contact, and causes infections in or around the mouth (oral herpes or cold sores). Adults can acquire genital HSV-1 infection through sexual contact if they were not infected during childhood. Type 2 spreads by sexual contact and causes genital herpes. Approximately 13% of the world’s population aged 15–49 years are living with HSV-2 infection.

In addition to sores and blisters, HSV can cause other more serious complications requiring healthcare attention, including a rare chance of mother to child transmission during childbirth, and increased risk of HIV infection.

More information on herpes is available on the WHO website

Watch a video explaner on YouTube: Let’s Talk Herpes

Estimated global and regional economic burden of genital herpes simplex virus infection among 15–49 year-olds in 2016. Chaiyakunapruk N, Lee SWH, Kulchaitanaroaj P, Rayanakorn A, Lee H, Looker KJ, Hutubessy R, Gottlieb SL. BMC Public Health.