Study: Condoms Reduce Women's Risk of Contracting Herpes

A new study confirmed that condoms significantly reduce women's risk of contracting genital herpes, but they may not be as effective in protecting men. One theory is that condoms do not shield men from the entire area from which women shed the incurable virus. But Dr. Anna Wald, director of the University of Washington virology research clinic, who led the study, cautioned that the finding was more likely a statistical fluke.

Genital herpes is estimated to infect almost 25 percent of US adults and is spread through sexual contact when it enters the body through tiny passages in the skin. Most people who have the virus do not know it, and women are at higher risk of contracting the virus from an infected partner. While health officials had long advised condom use, this is the first study to confirm that condoms offer protection against genital herpes, said Wald.

The study in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (2001; 285: 3100-3106) looked at 528 monogamous couples with one infected partner from 1993 to 1996. About half the uninfected partners were women. Only 61 percent of couples reported using condoms during the study period, though they were advised to do so. Overall, 31 people -- 26 women and five men -- acquired herpes during the study. But among the 118 participants who reported using condoms more than 50 percent of the time, only two -- both men -- acquired herpes.

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