November 17, 2005
In a new study of more than 1,800 adults at high risk of genital herpes, those who reported usually using condoms were one-quarter less likely to test positive for herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) than those who did not.
According to lead author Dr. Anna Wald of the University of Washington-Seattle, the level of HSV-2 protection conferred by condoms had not previously been clear. Wald and colleagues conducted an earlier study that showed consistent condom use helped prevent genital herpes in women; however, the results for men were inconclusive. The new research, Wald said, "is the first study to show it's effective in both women and men."
Wald said HSV-2 is different from other STDs in that it is present in the skin around the genitals, which is not covered by condoms. While condoms do not provide complete protection against HSV-2, they do appear to lower the risk of transmission, Wald said.
Study participants were considered at high risk for HSV-2 because they reported either an STD infection or four or more sex partners in the preceding year. During the 18-month study, slightly more than 6 percent of males and females contracted HSV-2. Those who reported using condoms during sex at least three-quarters of the time were one-quarter less likely to become infected than those who reported usually having unsafe sex.
The results, Wald said, point up the importance of consistent condom use. She noted, however, that people who know they have HSV-2 should avoid sex during symptom outbreaks and should adhere to their prescribed medication regimen.
The full report, "The Relationship Between Condom Use and Herpes Simplex Virus Acquisition," was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2005;143(108):707-713).