HOUSTON— New Orleans may be the famous home of Mardi Gras, but a new study finds it’s also the new home of genital herpes.
A team from STDcheck.com reports that New Orleans had the highest prevalence of genital herpes cases in a study of more than 130,000 Americans in over 30 US cities. More than one in five people (20.4%) tested in New Orleans had the herpes virus. That’s far above the national average of 15.7 percent, according to researchers.
“New Orleans could be on the precipice of having a public health crisis due to the high spread of genital herpes in the city. We cannot stress enough that sexually active people use protection to avoid contracting an STD,” says Dr. David Jayne, the Medical Director of STDcheck.com, in a media release.
Study authors note that New Orleans has seen a recent explosion of genital herpes cases during the pandemic — skyrocketing by 57 percent since 2019. Three years ago, researchers estimate that only 13 percent of New Orleans residents had the virus.
Since there is currently no definitive cure for the STD, researchers urge adults to continually get tested if they’re sexually active. They add that herpes “doesn’t have to be the end of your sex life.”
Rounding out the top five metropolitan areas with the highest rates of genital herpes are Salt Lake City (19.2%), Cincinnati (19.1%), Charlotte (19%), and Orlando (19%).
“Unprotected sex is dangerous and people need to know if they have been exposed to prevent more severe health problems,” Dr. Jayne says.
Why does the virus keep coming back?
In a separate study, scientists in Germany have also discovered what causes herpesviruses to continually come back and plague their carriers.
To this point, doctors have discovered eight different herpes viruses which infect humans. After the initial infection, they settle down and stay relatively dormant within the body — but the virus never goes away completely. When patients experience a flare-up, itchy cold sores, blisters, or shingles appear in the problem areas.
The new study in the journal Nature discovered a previously unknown cellular mechanism which the viral microRNA uses to reactivate herpes in a patient.
For the first time, study authors found that the viral microRNA in herpes acts as a master regulator, causing the reactivation of the virus. During this research, the team focused on human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), which more than 90 percent of the population carries without ever noticing it! This particular herpesvirus only causes problems if it continues to awaken from its dormant state.
“How herpesviruses reactivate from a dormant state is the central question in herpesvirus research,” says Julius-Maximilians-Universität virologist Lars Dölken in a university release. “If we understand this, we know how to intervene therapeutically.”
Discovering the key to herpes flare-ups
The team discovered that the key appears to be the viral microRNA called miR-aU14. In HHV-6, the regulatory miR-aU14 comes from the virus itself. As soon as the viral microRNA expresses this gene, it starts disrupting the metabolism of human microRNA.
This leads to a chain reaction within the human body that ultimately disrupts the immune system’s ability to sense the presence of viruses. When this happens, the herpesvirus is able to switch from a dormant to an active state.
US Metropolitan Areas With The Highest Genital Herpes Rates:
- New Orleans-Metairie, La. (20.4%)
- Salt Lake City, Utah (19.2%)
- Cincinnati, Ohio (19.1%)
- Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC (19.0%)
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Fla. (19.0%)
- San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, Calif. (18.9%)
- Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nev. (18.7%)
- St. Louis, Mo. (18.3%)
- Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore. (18.1%)
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (18.0%)
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ (18.0%)
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Ill. (18.0%)
- Raleigh-Cary, NC (17.9%)
- San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, Calif. (17.8%)
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. (17.7%)
- Washington DC-Arlington-Alexandria, Va. (17.6%)
- Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Ind. (17.5%)
- Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo. (17.4%)
- Oklahoma City, Okla. (17.4%)
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-NJ-Del. (17.4%)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul Bloomington, Minn. (17.4%)
- Jacksonville, Fla. (17.3%)
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (17.1%)
- Sacramento-Roseville-Folsom, Calif. (16.9%)
- Columbus, Ohio (16.9%)
- Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass. (16.9%)
- Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, Ariz. (16.9%)
- San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX (16.6%)
- Milwaukee-Waukesha, Wis. (16.5%)
- Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash. (16.5%)
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, Ga. (16.1%)
- Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Md. (16.0%)
- Kansas City, Mo. (15.7%)
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (15.4%)