Genital herpes infections and their related complications caused billions of dollars in healthcare expenditures and productivity losses globally, according to a study on Tuesday. 

The study is the first-ever global estimate of the economic costs of the condition, and was led by a team from the University of Utah Health and was done in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Herpes is caused by infection with one of two types of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Acquired majorly in childhood, it can spread by oral contact and cause infections in or around the mouth (oral herpes or cold sores).

The study, published in the journal BMC Global and Public Health, showed that around two-thirds of people (67 per cent) aged 0-49 globally have HSV-1.

Approximately 13 per cent of the world’s population aged 15-49 years are living with HSV-2 infection.

However, HSV is not limited to sores and blisters. It can cause other more serious complications, including a rare chance of mother-to-child transmission during childbirth, and increased risk of HIV infection, noted the study.

It also called for greater investment in the prevention of herpes transmission, including concerted efforts to develop effective vaccines against this common virus.

“The global costs of genital HSV infection and its consequences are substantial,” said the team in the paper.

“HSV prevention interventions have the potential to avert a large economic burden in addition to disease burden; thus, efforts to accelerate HSV vaccine development are crucial,” they added.

The study also details the associated economic cost estimates for genital herpes globally and by region. Wealthier countries bore the brunt of the costs: $27 billion, or 76.6 per cent of the total costs, were in high-and middle-income countries.

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