Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Be Very Afraid If You Don’t Have Time To Read This

So I’m online looking for an article worth discussing with you, and check out this terrifying headline I found:

Herpes infections frequent in adolescent girls
Almost 60 percent over age 14 tested positive for infection, study shows

Sixty percent! Almost six out of every ten girls above age 14 have herpes? Holy freaking God, as a (soft-core) libertarian I’m not usually one to call for government intervention but sixty percent of a generation with an incurable sexually transmitted disease is a public-health catastrophe and somebody has to do something and — wait a minute. Here’s what the article says next:

Infections with the virus that causes genital herpes are common among teen girls, a new study shows.
While none of the young women in the study had oral or genital herpes symptoms, some of those who tested positive for the virus were shedding it in their vaginal area, meaning it would be possible for them to transmit the infection to others, Dr. Kenneth H. Fife of the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis and colleagues report.
“It was something that we sort of expected to find based on the incidence of other sexually transmitted infections in this population,” Fife told Reuters Health in an interview.


“In this population.” Okay, so it’s not sixty percent of adolescent girls in general, but of the population of a given study. That’s still pretty disturbing, but not as scary as it sounded at first. Just who was this population, anyway? Let’s see how bad this is:

A national survey of the U.S. population conducted between 1988 and 1994 found that more than one in five people over 12 had blood tests that showed evidence for infection with herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV 2), the virus typically responsible for genital herpes

I’ll admit, I’m not much of a mathematician but I’m pretty sure one in five is closer to twenty percent. Have rates increased to sixty percent since 1994? Could those lurid sex stories you hear about young girls these days be true?

More details from the story:

Fife and his team analyzed data from a study in which a group of young women were followed closely to determine if they contracted any sexually transmitted infections. Their analysis included results of blood and genital specimen tests obtained every three months from 100 women aged 14 to 18.
At the study’s outset, they found, 59.6 percent of the women tested positive for HSV 1, while 13.5 percent carried HSV 2. During the follow-up period, from 1999 to 2004, four of the study participants contracted new HSV 1 infections, while seven acquired HSV 2.


HSV 1 is the cold-sore form of herpes. So that scary “60 percent” headline statistic refers to a population — don’t know which one — where sixty percent of girls have the herpes virus that might give them cold sores when they’re sick, but only 13.5 percent had the unsafe-sex version.

How does this 13.5 percent figure compare to the overall population? Of all the girls aged 14-18 in America, what percent have genital herpes? I couldn’t find that information in the article or online; best I could do was the CDC’s statistic that one out of five Americans over age 12 has HSV-2.

One out of five? It was a little more than that in the 1988-1994 study. The rates of infection have gone down, by a tiny margin.

But that’s not the type of headline that grabs people’s attention the way “60 percent of girls over age 14 tested positive for herpes” does.

5 Comments:

Anonymous A Moose said...

So that scary “60 percent” headline statistic refers to a population — don’t know which one — where sixty percent of girls have the herpes virus that might give them cold sores when they’re sick, but only 13.5 percent had the unsafe-sex version.

The population is the 100 girls they tested, near as I can read it they're using the statistical technical term. No comment I could find applied to how they chose those 100 and if they are representative of the general populace.

Sorry, it's the engineer in me..

4:03 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

But A. Moose, are these average teenagers reflecting the total American teenage population? Are they girls under the care of social services? Girls from a home for unwed mothers? A tough inner-city high school? If you take 100 perfectly average American girls, will 13.5 percent of them have herpes?

And even if this population is indicative of American girls in general, that headline was still grossly misleading in context.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

...teenage population? Are they girls under the care of social services? Girls from a home for unwed mothers? A tough ...(etc)

I think I said:

No comment I could find applied to how they chose those 100 and if they are representative of the general populace.

So we'd have to agree on that.

that headline was still grossly misleading in context.

No doubt. Articles trying to sell newspapers want to have a headine which grabs your attention. It actually wouldn't suprise me if 6 of 10 teens had cold sores. One in five for genital herpes seems a bit high to me, but I'm looking back at 40 so it may be a generational thing.

Doggone heat wave, sweating all over the laptop. All I did was go pull the bikes off the back of the vehicle and remove the bike rack, kicked my sorry butt. At least I can't blame the sweating on the pictures, though.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

60% tested positive for herpes means 60% tested positive for ORAL *OR* GENITAL herpes. Most people test postive for ORAL herpes, which is the common cold sore kids and adults get. Only 20% test positve for GENITAL herpes. You are confusing the two types of herpes. Please correct your blog so that you don't confuse the zillions of adults and kids out there who have no clue about the real facts.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi.I have been living with genital herpes sine I was 24. It was given to me by Allen Campbell. I am now 34 with a 7 year old and married. It should be illegal to spread vd!

10:37 AM  

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