Among blacks, 39.2 percent are infected, a rate more than three times that of whites, at 12.3 percent, according to the report. Black women had the highest prevalence of HSV-2, at 48 percent.
"As dark as these numbers are, they are not substantially different from CDC's previous estimates of these populations," Taylor said.
The report noted that women also are more susceptible to other sexually transmitted diseases and that the racial disparities found with HSV-2 may be due to more infections among blacks that make them more likely to be exposed to herpes.
The infection rates should also be considered serious because people with herpes are two to three times more likely to become infected with HIV and because having herpes makes it more likely that an HIV-infected person will give HIV to others, according to the CDC.
Taylor said the survey also found that the prevalence of herpes increases with age, from 1.4 percent among those aged 14 to 19 years to 26.1 percent among people aged 40 to 49. "This reflects the fact that, once you are infected with herpes, the infection is lifelong since no cure currently exists," she said.
The prevalence of herpes was also higher among those who reported having many sex partners, Taylor said. About 4 percent of those with one lifetime sex partner were found to have herpes, compared with about 27 percent of those who reported having 10 or more partners.
In addition, more than 80 percent of people infected with herpes don't know they are infected, Taylor said, in large part because symptoms can be mild or absent altogether. Symptoms also are often taken to be the sign of another infection.
But people with herpes infection can transmit it to others even if they have no signs of the disease, health officials stressed.
"This latest analysis emphasizes that we can't afford to be complacent about this infection," Dr. John M. Dougl
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