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Media Release

In response to the following news story:

“Mothers should not be alarmed by these tragic rare cases – a repeat is now unlikely”

says Herpes Viruses Association

You can download this media release as a PDF

For a woman to be infected with herpes simplex during a Caesarean-section is one of the rarest possible medical accidents. For it to happen twice in the same geographical area required a unique set of circumstances that are unlikely to be repeated. Lessons have been learned and treatment guidelines will be updated to prevent another similar tragedy.

The Herpes Viruses Association was shocked to hear that two women died from internal herpes simplex infections following disease transmission via C-section. We extend our condolences to the families affected.

Herpes is common – for most it is a minor skin condition

Herpes simplex (HSV) infections are common and in almost every case are caught during direct skin on skin contact with the affected area, with friction, when the virus is active. It is almost unheard of for these viruses to be caught during any kind of medical procedure and strict protocols are adopted to prevent this.

Herpes simplex is universal. More than two thirds of the world’s population carry the most common type, known as HSV-1[1] which places it close behind chickenpox as an almost universally acquired virus in humans. The other type is HSV-2.[2] Either type may be caught facially (cold sores) or genitally (genital herpes). It is also possible for either type to infect the hand or finger. This is called a herpetic whitlow and is seen less often than infection in other parts of the body.

More than half of pregnant women will have come into contact with HSV-1 before
conceiving. Their babies, from month 7 onwards, will acquire all their mothers’ antibodies which will protect them during birth and for several months.

If a herpes simplex infection is suspected in either a mother or her baby, prompt use of antiviral treatment should ensure a positive outcome.

In the tragic cases in Margate and Ashford, Kent, neither woman had a prior HSV-1 infection and therefore neither of them had herpes simplex antibodies. This made them both vulnerable to the accidental internal acquisition that turned out to be fatal.


Why was a common cold sore infection fatal in these cases?

Herpes simplex is normally a virus that infects skin and nerve cells. Typical symptoms are painful skin blisters and sores that make diagnosis straightforward. These women were infected internally, so there were no observable symptoms, and the virus was able to spread without affecting the skin.

Without the telltale blisters on the skin, herpes simplex was not suspected, and the antiviral treatment was not given.

Future improvement to guidelines

The Herpes Viruses Association is pleased to learn that the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is going to recommend treatment with antiviral medication for any ‘mysterious’ illness in mother or baby. This is a highly safe precaution and should prevent any similar tragedy in the future.

– ENDS –

NOTES TO THE EDITOR

The Herpes Viruses Association exists to promote better mental and physical health with regard to the family of herpes viruses.  Its aims are:

  1. To provide information to the public, to medical professionals and to the media.
  2. To encourage the development of new treatments for herpes simplex.
  3. To tackle stigma and the unnecessary trauma associated with the condition.
Posted on

Stigma: who benefits?

By Cameron Poole

Since stupidity, division, snobbery and general unpleasantness continue to thrive among us humans, one might argue that stigma doesn’t need challenging. It fits very well into modern society sitting comfortably somewhere between babyishness and insecurity as a normal human behaviour.

Stigma is primarily defined as A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person’. It does not say if the mark of disgrace in question is in any way justified or rational.

The human condition

Perhaps one of the biggest flaws of the human condition is this silly need to separate ourselves from others so as to feel superior. It is something we may all have been guilty of at some point or another. It makes us feel better at the expense of others, and in the purest examples it provides comfort to those with little to feel proud about themselves.

Most are better than this

Most people are fundamentally decent and have no interest in power – at least not the sort of power which makes important decisions affecting millions of people. We generally seek to enjoy the company of other good people, but there is little material value in that and sadly, fundamentally decent people do not seem to be the ones in control of society’s current narrative. Stigma and division are closely related and were always there in basic form but have been amplified by the power of modern media to serve those who benefit from our separation and discontent.

Divide and rule

Divisions have always caused issues in society and there are plenty of examples – Christian v Muslim, black v white, remain v leave, pro vaccination v anti vaccination, – on and on it goes, sometimes obvious and serious, often innocuous and playful, but they are ingrained into us and mined to maximum effect. They stem from the primal security of belonging to a particular tribe but are no longer essential for our survival and seldom do we benefit from it in this age of globalisation. We are perpetually pitted against each other by our own kind and in most cases oblivious to this manipulation.

There IS much profit to be made from this ‘us and them’ mindset. It is promoted wherever you look, especially if you are looking in a newspaper or at a screen. The marketing team hired by Burroughs Welcome at the end of the 70s applied this knowledge to great effect when they created the stigma for herpes simplex. (See How herpes got its stigma)

The fact that sex outside of marriage has always been frowned upon, particularly in the UK, has only empowered the stigma around STIs in general and herpes simplex in particular.

Changing your perspective

So, what can we do about it?  We can’t change society, but we can change how we view ourselves and rise above any temptation to conform to any negative ideas we have been spoon-fed. We can let go of any stigma and look down upon it, not allow it to look down upon us. In the case of herpes simplex and those of us who are aware that we have it, it is important to repeat these three facts until they eclipse the nonsense:

Firstly: accept that herpes simplex infection is one of the most common, if not THE most common, infection among human beings and that anyone who doesn’t have the virus by their 30’s, has been living a rather sedate life. Therefore ‘having herpes’ applies to almost everyone. This should not be confused with ‘having been diagnosed with herpes’. Only one in three who catches it notices that they have it. So, most of the people who stigmatise herpes have it too, they just haven’t noticed. It is a fact that you are a safer partner than all the undiagnosed people out there.

Secondly: the stigma is an invention not a fact – and a recent invention at that. We know it did not exist at all until the late 1970s. Herpes simplex is not considered anything to be ashamed of in most of Europe and the world. It is only countries with English as a first language that have adopted such an ignorant and misinformed view of herpes – which is just a medical word for the humble cold sore.    

Thirdly: any shame you have felt as a result of the stigma was deliberately created by a bunch of (presumably) men, brainstorming around a conference table at the end of the 70s. One of them, Pedro Cuatrecasas, has written about it. Their morally abysmal creation was a huge success at your expense and will continue to be until the moment you decide that is no longer going to be the case.

You are normal

Be good to yourself and ditch the stigma, realise that you do not need to feel stigmatised. As we have said above, it is normal to have herpes simplex. That is a simple fact which is not promoted because it doesn’t make any money. Simple facts reassure and don’t cause people to believe they need to rush out and spend money on treatment.

Once you feel OK about yourself, you will not care what lesser beings say or think about it. Most of us don’t subscribe to the stigmatisation of skin colour or the stigmatisation of homosexuality – so why on earth would we give any credibility to the stigmatisation of a very common and medically unimportant skin condition?

Read more on the manufactured stigma of herpes in the links below.

More links

https://www.salon.com/2019/02/12/how-big-pharma-helped-create-the-herpes-stigma-to-sell-drugs/

https://slate.com/technology/2019/12/genital-herpes-stigma-history-explained.html
https://www.teenvogue.com/story/herpes-stigma-is-a-lie
https://www.vice.com/en/article/ypa8nb/did-big-pharma-create-the-herpes-stigma-for-profit