Kim's Letter to
Think about a friend, relative or
significant other telling you about their experience of having
chickenpox or mono as a kid. Or how they have finally gotten over
that fever blister which has been annoying them the last couple of
weeks. Now think of the same person telling you they have genital
herpes. Did that last statement cause you to have a different
reaction? It shouldn’t – because ALL of these common skin
conditions are simply different manifestations of the herpes virus.
Herpes viruses are a leading cause of human viral disease, second
only to influenza and cold viruses.
negative stigma surrounding some types of herpes is so prevalent and
powerful that it often causes the millions of HSV-positive Americans
who know they have it to experience feelings of depression, despair,
fear, anger and even contemplation of suicide. The judgments,
rejection and psychological burden that many experience because of
this virus are often far worse and insidious than the physical
As April is
National STD Month, I would like to ask you to please do a segment
on herpes. Given Oprah’s remarkable ability to educate her viewers,
I believe a single show on this “hidden epidemic” could
single-handedly change the way millions of people think about this
issue. I think it would also be a powerful way to dramatically
increase the public “call to action” for a cure or vaccine for this
Here are some
useful statistics regarding herpes simplex virus (HSV) Types I and
II (the strains commonly associated with STDs) that the public
Between 50 to 80% of Americans have HSV-1, the strain commonly
responsible for oral herpes (aka cold sores or fever blisters).
Most people contract oral herpes when they are children by
receiving a kiss from a friend or relative.
can be “converted” from oral herpes in one person to genital
herpes in another via oral sex.
of people have HSV-2 (the strain most commonly associated with
genital herpes, or GH) – although as many as 90% don't know it,
because they have no symptoms. Some sources say that as many as
1 in 3 people over the age of 30 are carriers of HSV-2. It is
estimated that 50% of Americans will carry genital herpes by
are five times more likely to get HSV than men.
transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact. This occurs
when a contagious area comes into contact with a tiny break in
the skin or mucous membrane tissue, primarily the mouth and
can be actively transmitted by HSV-positive people with no
symptoms to others via a process known as
subclinical viral shedding.
can be transferred to the eyes (herpes keratitis), causing
inflammation and scarring of the
Ocular herpes is the leading cause of infectious blindness in
the United States, currently affecting 400,000 Americans. There
are close to 50,000 new and recurring cases occurring each year.
also be transferred to the hand (herpes whitlow, aka “hand herpes”)
or other parts of the body (herpes gladiatorum, aka “mat herpes” or
“scrum pox”) via contact between an active herpes outbreak and a
cut/abrasion area on the skin.
cause severe, potentially fatal, issues for infants (neonatal
herpes) that are vaginally delivered by mothers who have recently
acquired HSV or suffer an HSV outbreak at the time of delivery.
HSV-1 and 2 can be transferred through "outer course" (skin-to-skin
contact in the genital region) as well as intercourse and oral sex.
If a person thinks they can’t get genital herpes without
“technically” having sex, think again!
reduces transmission rates by only 50% --> using condoms does NOT
offer 100% protection from contracting herpes. For example, if the
location of the virus on the skin is not protected by a condom
(i.e., the testicles), then HSV can be transmitted even if condoms
TESTING IS *NOT* INCLUDED IN A "FULL" STD SCREEN, UNLESS
Thus, many people think they've been tested for it, when in fact
they haven’t – and so may innocently tell their partner they are
“STD-free”, when in fact they are not.
consequence of all of the above, "asymptomatic carriers" can
unknowingly transfer the virus to others, making it one of the most
communicable (and, for now, permanent) STDs. Approximately 70% of
the estimated 1 million new cases of genital herpes each year are
contracted in this way.
currently no cure for the herpes virus. The commercially-available
suppressive treatments simply help reduce the severity/length of the
outbreaks that some herpes carriers suffer. While these treatments
are also useful in reducing viral shedding, they do NOT completely
prevent the potential for herpes transmission.
can compromise the immunity system: people with HSV are two to four
times as likely to contract HIV than a person without the virus in
their system. Think of the impact an HSV cure/vaccine would have in areas ravaged
these statistics, it seems the only practical solution to the
epidemic is new treatments. I believe a frank discussion
incorporating any of these statistics could create a groundswell of
activity regarding herpes.
You, as a producer
of the Oprah Show, are uniquely positioned to radically change the
way America thinks about what is essentially a common skin
condition. Please do what you can to educate Oprah viewers about
the heavily stigmatized, incredibly common, but largely
invisible herpes epidemic. We would greatly appreciate your help and support!