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World Health Organization to planet: We’re pretty sure most of you have the herpes virus

Reuters/Pierre Albouy
“You probably have herpes.”
By Corinne Purtill
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Fresh off its buzzkilling revelation earlier this week that you might get cancer from bacon and burgers, the World Health Organization is back with a fun bit of news: you probably have the herpes virus, too.

Two thirds-of the world’s population under the age of 50—3.7 billion people—are infected with the herpes simplex type 1 virus, the strain that typically manifests as cold sores around the mouth, according to a WHO study released online Oct. 28.

Another 417 million people in that age group have herpes simplex type 2, which is primarily sexually transmitted and causes genital herpes.

Unfortunately for the herpes-free minority of the world’s population, the virus is difficult to avoid. The HSV-1 strain that most of us carry can also cause genital herpes, and people who do not have any form of herpes are actually more likely to develop genital sores if they are exposed to the virus through oral sex, according to WHO.

If you already get cold sores as a result of HSV-1, you’re unlikely to get genital lesions this way. However, contracting HSV-2 via skin-to-skin sexual contact is still quite possible, and it happens to an additional 20 million people around the world every year.

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