The Fight Against Herpes Comes to Rochester

September 24, 2003

John Treanor leads the Rochester portion of the study.

            Rochester-area women have a unique opportunity to take part in the world’s largest study of a vaccine to protect against genital herpes.

            Doctors in 20 cities nationwide, including Rochester, are seeking 7,500 women ages 18 to 30 to participate in the study, which is testing a vaccine that has helped protect women against the virus in previous smaller tests. Currently there is no such vaccine approved to prevent the virus, which is a cousin of the much more common herpes-1 virus that causes cold sores in the mouth.

            Doctors and nurses at the University of Rochester Medical Center are hoping to enroll 250 to 300 women within the next 18 months.

            “Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, and its frequency is increasing rapidly,” says John Treanor, M.D., associate professor of medicine and director of the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit. “There is no really effective treatment for this form of herpes, so clearly the word is prevention. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

            Doctors estimate that about one in every four or five women in the nation has genital herpes, and they believe it’s just as common in men. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 million people are infected each year in the United States alone – that’s an average of more than 100 people each hour who will contract the lifelong infection through sexual activity.

            While the disease can cause painful sores on the genitals, many people don’t know they have it because they’ve never had an outbreak or noticed symptoms. And while people with the disease often avoid sexual activity when they have sores, the disease can be transmitted to another person anytime, even when the virus is dormant.

            If a woman’s infection is active when she gives birth, the virus can cause meningitis, retardation and a host of other health problems in the child.

            “It’s important that we have a vaccine to prevent this disease, not only for young men and women, but also their children,” says Treanor.

            Women participating in the study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, will receive three shots of the herpes vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, or of a comparison vaccine. Participants will visit the vaccine unit once every three or four months for a blood test and possibly a physical exam, over a period of about two years. Scientists hope to complete the study by the end of 2006.

            Women from ages 18 to 30 who would like to learn more should call the vaccine unit at (585) 273-3990. Women who have genital herpes or who have had cold sores on the mouth are not eligible. Men are not part of the study because previous studies have shown that the vaccine does not work in men.

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