New research reveals Herpes attitudes still living in the 70'sMore than nine out of 10 of people with Genital Herpes say the infection adversely affects their sex life and their major concerns are confusion about its ease of transmission and whether it is curable.
This is according to new web-based global research conducted by the International Herpes Management Forum (IHMF) and the International Herpes Alliance (IHA) - the world's leading Herpes organisations - confirming that the Herpes stigma is alive and well in 2003.
The unique online survey, known as 'INSIGHTS', canvassed the opinions of 2,075 people with Genital Herpes and 622 doctors from more than 90 countries worldwide from February 2002 to January 2003.
The findings, which were presented at the IHMFs 10th annual meeting in Paris last weekend, highlight the major concerns, perceptions and experiences of people living with the infection.
According to Dr Feelgood (Dr Sally Cockburn), Australian GP and media health commentator:
"This online survey offered people with Herpes around the world an anonymous voice to express their key concerns. Anonymity is vital in getting to the truth about how people feel and the results highlight the challenges we face in managing this common infection."While retro may be the rage in clothing these days, it's a shame many people's attitude to the Herpes infection haven't moved out of the 70's. This is disappointing"
, she said.
"I had rather hoped that public health education might have reduced the stigma of this viral infection. But it seems we have a long way to go."While 69 per cent of doctors said they were comfortable talking with their patients about dealing with Genital Herpes, 51 per cent of patients said they were dissatisfied with the assistance and answers they received from their doctors about the physical aspects of the disease.
Even more patients (63 per cent) were dissatisfied with the information they received on social and emotional issues associated with the disease and 36 per cent even felt their doctor was unsympathetic when diagnosing their infection.
"This research shows that when first diagnosed with Genital Herpes, people are naturally hungry for information about the physical and psychological affects of the disease," said Dr Feelgood.
"It's frustrating for me as a health educator that people feel they can't access the information they want from their doctor. GP time constraints may well be a problem.
"I hope people would feel comfortable to return to their doctor when they have gathered their thoughts for a longer chat. There is also a wealth of patient education material available that I do hope they are getting," she said.
"Because the virus is highly contagious and may be transmitted even when those infected do not show any physical signs or symptoms, people are particularly concerned about the risk of infecting their partner. There is no doubt that the information out there is often confusing.
"But these days, there are good treatment options which, when used with sensible, safe sex practices, greatly reduce the risk of passing herpes onto another," said Dr Feelgood.
"The key is understanding the facts and learning how to manage the disease yourself. It's vital that we educate everyone
, not just those with herpes."Sixty-nine per cent of respondents told their partner that they had Genital Herpes, 43 per cent had informed their friends and 33 per cent their family. Of those who told someone, 71 per cent found it difficult to do so.
"While this seems fine on the surface, it could indicate that over 30 per cent of people may not have told their partner OR, as is often the case, they could be avoiding getting into relationships at all because of their infection," said Dr Feelgood.
"We clearly need MORE information in a form that addresses the patients needs. We also need to be sure that doctors have access to up-to-date information about the modern treatment options.
"That's why it's important that we continue to address Herpes as a public health issue. Because the more we talk about Herpes, the more people will learn about the infection and how to live with it, which will ultimately reduce the likelihood of transmission," she said.
While there is no cure for Genital Herpes, the infection can be successfully managed with reliable information, education and the use of effective, antiviral medications, taken either when symptoms appear to speed healing, or daily as a preventative measure, to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.
"Some people with Herpes don't even know there IS help at hand! Or are too nervous to bring it up with their doctor," said Dr Feelgood.When informed that taking medication daily could significantly reduce the number of outbreaks, 84 per cent of respondents said they would be likely to take it.
With regard to diagnosis, more than half (58 per cent) of the respondents said their doctor had correctly diagnosed them with genital herpes based on a laboratory test - a practice recommended by the IHMF as an accurate test for the disease. However 34 per cent of respondents reported that their doctors had made a diagnosis on physical examination alone.
According to Dr Catriona Ooi, sexual health expert from Clinic 16 at the Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney:
"It is important that all doctors are equipped with the necessary tools and information to manage their patients presenting with signs or symptoms of Genital Herpes in an effective and understanding manner.
"Accurate diagnosis and the provision of adequate information and support for patients with Genital Herpes is essential in all cases," said Dr Ooi.
A total of 84 Australians with genital herpes responded to the survey via the IHA website (www.herpesalliance.org
"Australia made a small, but nonetheless pivotal contribution to this research," said Dr Feelgood.
"Given that eight in 10 Australians have Herpes Type 1 (which commonly takes the form of a cold sore around the mouth) and two in 10 Australians have Herpes Type 2 (which commonly takes the form of genital herpes), it's time we started openly tackling herpes and its associated stigma as a public health issue."People seeking more information about herpes should see their doctor, call the national Herpes Information Line on 1800 102 200 or visit www.herpes.com.au.
→ INSIGHTS research