Herpes has become a predominant issue worldwide, and herpes in Japan is no exception. According to a report by the World Health Organization, over 3 billion individuals under 50, or 67% of the global population, are infected with herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1). An additional 417 million individuals aged 5-49 are carrying the other strain of the virus, herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). The major perceived difference between the two is the site of latency. HSV-1 is most commonly transmitted through oral secretions and is known as the virus that causes “cold sores” around the mouth. What most people don’t know is that HSV-1 actually causes 40% of genital herpes cases. And that HSV-2, the infamous virus that is the more common cause of genital herpes through sexual activity, can also cause oral herpes.
In many ways, HSV-1 and HSV-2 are one and the same. Importantly, both are easily transmittable and incurable. What’s more is that they are latent viruses that tend to remain asymptomatic, which is why most people don’t know that they are infected. Whether or not you have symptoms, you may have the virus and are just as likely to spread it through skin-to-skin contact as an individual that is showing symptoms. This is why getting tested regularly is critical to keep yourself and others safe.
Though the prevalence of herpes in Japan is lower relative to countries such as the United States, it is still the third most common STD after chlamydia and gonococcal infections. It is a heavily stigmatized disease, which has led individuals to believe that they are somehow dirty if they are infected. However, it’s important to remember that herpes infections are extremely common and that there are treatment options to keep the disease well managed to lower outbreaks of lesions.
Prescription antiviral medications designed to target the herpes virus are the recommended course of treatment. Drugs such as acyclovir and valacyclovir have been extensively tested and demonstrated to reduce the recurrence rate, severity, and duration of outbreaks. Moreover, they have mild side effects and are considered to be safe to use. These medications can be used on as-needed or daily basis, depending on how frequently you experience outbreaks.
If you are experiencing symptoms around the mouth, you can visit a dermatologist to receive a prescription. If the lesions are on or around your genitalia, then you would be well-advised to visit a gynecologist if you are female or an urologist if you are male. Though private insurance providers may cover STD screening costs, Japanese National Health Insurance does not. Estimated costs include fee for a test item, which is approximately several thousand yen, and an added consultation fee of about 3000 yen. Public health centres provide free STD screening only for syphilis and HIV.