- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Condoms can prevent the spread of genital herpes to women, says a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"This study is the first to document protection against HSV-2 [herpes simplex virus 2] acquisition with condom use," wrote Dr. Anna Wald, medical director of the Virology Research Clinic at the University of Washington.
Condoms were effective in stopping herpes transmission to women, "but not in men," wrote Dr. Wald and eight colleagues. They projected that if U.S. couples used condoms consistently, 315,000 new cases of herpes in women could be averted.
"Genital herpes is among the most widespread sexually transmitted diseases. This study would give women reasons why they might want to negotiate condom use with their partner," Dr. Wald told reporters yesterday.
She said that one out of four women have the disease.
Tracey Adams of the Herpes Resource Center at the American Social Health Association, which runs the center as a part of its efforts to prevent sexually transmitted disease, said as many as one in five Americans older than 12 suffers from genital herpes.
"We've known that latex condoms can prevent the spread of STDs, so we're very pleased to find out science is now saying there is another STD that has some means of prevention," Ms. Adams said.
The Wald study showed condoms protected users from the spread of the virus between 80 percent and 90 percent of the time, said Dr. Wald.
Dr. Josh Mann of the Medical Institute in Austin, Texas, said that although the study showed a statistically significant link between condom use and the prevention of spreading the disease, he said the link could not be made certain because of the small number of couples who consistently used them throughout the study.
"If every one used condoms always, it could be proved to be significant, but the problem is, if you look at the condom use patterns in the study, you see how few of them actually used the condoms to any substantial degree," he said.
However, he agrees the study shows condoms are effective to some degree in preventing the spread of STDs, but he said that the only complete protection is to remain abstinent.
The Medical Institute maintains that herpes is spread easily and that condoms and vaccines offer limited protection. The only way to be completely safe from genital herpes is to avoid sex until marriage and marry someone who has done the same, the institute says in a recent publication.
"[The study] doesn't change the message about what the healthiest behavior is for those who want to avoid STD infections," said Dr. Mann. "And herpes is obviously not the only STD out there."
The Wald study is based on data from 528 monogamous couples who agreed to take part in a two-and-a-half-year study on a herpes vaccine. One partner in all the couples had genital herpes, and data were collected on their sexual activity, herpes outbreaks, condom use and herpes transmission. Couples were counseled regularly to avoid sex during herpes outbreaks and to use condoms at other times.
The vaccine was shown to be ineffectual. However, high rates of condom use and a decrease in sexual activity were factors in avoiding herpes from their partners.
At the end of the study, 31 persons acquired herpes from their partners. Twenty-two of these newly infected persons also reported on their condom use: Ten never used condoms and another eight used condoms in fewer than one-quarter of their sexual acts.
In contrast, "among 118 persons reporting condom use for more than 50 percent of sex acts, only two persons acquired HSV-2 infection," the study said.
"Counseling to encourage consistent condom use is appropriate for these patients, especially for men with HSV-2 infection," the researchers wrote, noting that only 61 percent of couples reported ever using condoms, despite counseling.

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