The data was then put into a mathematical model to determine the probable rate of shedding. According to the study, 85 percent of shedding episodes were asymptomatic, or did not cause a lesion. About 60 percent lasted less than 12 hours.
About 45 million Americans, or one in five over the age of 12, are infected with the genital herpes virus in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many of them aren't aware they are infected because they've never had, or have never been aware of, their lesions. "Within their skin there is this constant battle going on within the virus and the immune system," Schiffer explained.
Typically, patients are counseled to avoid having sex during an outbreak and to use a condom to prevent transmission when they are not having symptoms.
Antiviral drugs available, including acyclovir, valacyclovir and famciclovir, can control many, but not all, outbreaks, Schiffer said.
Nancy Sawtell, a researcher in the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said the study opens up new avenues for research. But it's too soon to suggest that low levels of viral DNA necessarily mean a person can still infect another.
She noted that the researchers tested for viral DNA, which is only a portion of the virus and doesn't in and of itself mean a person is infectious. "The presence of viral DNA does mean you are infected, but it doesn't necessarily mean you have an infectious particle there," Sawtell said.
Secondly, because the neurons themselves were not examined, it's possible the viral DNA that's present could have originated from somewhere else in the body. Previous animal studies have shown herpes does indeed go into an inactive state.
"It would be really nice to be able to lo
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