HOUSTON— New Orleans may be the famous home of Mardi Gras, but a new study reveals it’s also the new home of genital herpes.
A team from STDcheck.com reports that New Orleans had the highest prevalence of genital herpes cases in a study of more than 130,000 Americans in more than 30 US cities. More than one in five people (20.4%) tested in New Orleans had the herpes virus. That’s well above the national average of 15.7%, according to the researchers.
“New Orleans could be on the verge of a public health crisis due to the high spread of genital herpes in the city. We cannot stress enough that sexually active people use protection to avoid contract an STD,” says Dr. David Jayne, Medical Director of STDcheck.com, in a press release.
The study authors note that New Orleans has seen a recent surge in genital herpes cases during the pandemic, skyrocketing 57% since 2019. Three years ago, researchers estimated that only 13% of New Orleans residents had the virus.
Since there is currently no definitive cure for STDs, researchers urge adults to continuously get tested if they are sexually active. They add that herpes “doesn’t have to be the end of your sex life.”
Salt Lake City (19.2%), Cincinnati (19.1%), Charlotte (19%) and Orlando (19%) round out the top five metropolitan areas with the highest rates of genital herpes.
“Unprotected sex is dangerous and people need to know if they have been exposed to prevent more serious health problems,” says Dr. Jayne.
Why does the virus keep coming back?
In a separate study, German scientists have also discovered what makes herpes viruses keep coming back and afflicting their carriers.
At this point, doctors have discovered eight different herpes viruses that infect humans. After the initial infection, they settle in and remain relatively dormant in the body – but the virus never completely disappears. When patients experience a flare, cold sores, blisters, or itchy shingles appear in problem areas.
The new study in the journal Nature discovered a previously unknown cellular mechanism that viral microRNA uses to reactivate herpes in a patient.
For the first time, the study authors discovered that the herpes viral microRNA acts as a master regulator, causing the virus to reactivate. During this research, the team focused on human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), which more than 90% of the population carries without ever noticing! This particular herpesvirus only causes problems if it keeps waking up from its dormant state.
“How herpesviruses reactivate from a dormant state is the central question in herpesvirus research,” says Julius-Maximilians-Universität virologist Lars Dölken in an academic statement. “If we understand that, we know how to intervene therapeutically.”
Discover the key to herpes outbreaks
The team found that the key appears to be the viral microRNA called miR-aU14. In HHV-6, the regulatory miR-aU14 comes from the virus itself. As soon as the viral microRNA expresses this gene, it begins to disrupt human microRNA metabolism.
This leads to a chain reaction in the human body that ultimately disrupts the immune system’s ability to detect the presence of viruses. When this happens, the herpes virus is able to go from a dormant state to an active state.
US metropolitan areas with the highest rates of genital herpes:
- New Orleans-Metairie, Louisiana (20.4%)
- Salt Lake City, Utah (19.2%)
- Cincinnati, Ohio (19.1%)
- Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, North Carolina (19.0%)
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, Florida (19.0%)
- San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA (18.9%)
- Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada (18.7%)
- St. Louis, Mo. (18.3%)
- Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Oregon (18.1%)
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (18.0%)
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ (18.0%)
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, Illinois (18.0%)
- Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina (17.9%)
- San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA. (17.8%)
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, California (17.7%)
- Washington DC-Arlington-Alexandria, Virginia (17.6%)
- Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana (17.5%)
- Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado (17.4%)
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (17.4%)
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pa.-NJ-Del. (17.4%)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota (17.4%)
- Jacksonville, Florida (17.3%)
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX (17.1%)
- Sacramento-Roseville-Folsom, CA (16.9%)
- Columbus, Ohio (16.9%)
- Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA (16.9%)
- Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, Arizona (16.9%)
- San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX (16.6%)
- Milwaukee-Waukesha, Wis. (16.5%)
- Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington (16.5%)
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, Georgia (16.1%)
- Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, Maryland (16.0%)
- Kansas City, Missouri (15.7%)
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (15.4%)