July 14, 2009
Consistent condom use is an "important" tool in preventing genital herpes, according to Dr. Emily T. Martin of Children's Hospital Research Institute and the University of Washington-Seattle.
Though condoms' effectiveness in stopping the spread of HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and others STDs is well-established, Martin and colleagues noted that research has found mixed evidence of their benefit in preventing herpes simplex virus-2. Thus, they combined data from six different studies of HSV-2 and condom use involving a total of 5,384 people. All participants were free of HSV-2 when the studies began.
At follow-up, which averaged just over a year, 415 participants contracted HSV-2. Those who reported always using condoms were 30 percent less likely to contract genital herpes than those who did not use condoms. The risk of becoming infected rose concurrently with the number of unprotected sex acts, the team found.
Since HSV-2 can spread by skin-to-skin contact, condoms are only partly effective, Martin noted. And even though people infected with HSV-2 may not have a visible outbreak, they can still transmit the virus to others.
"Although the magnitude of protection was not as large as has been observed with other [STDs], we found that condoms offer moderate protection against HSV-2 acquisition in men and women," the authors concluded.
The study, "A Pooled Analysis of the Effect of Condoms in Preventing HSV-2 Acquisition," was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2009;169(13):1233-1240).