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New vaccine prevents herpes in women


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GALVESTON, Texas (CNN) -- A new vaccine prevented genital herpes in more than 70 percent of women who were previously uninfected with either the oral or genital herpes virus, researchers announced Wednesday.

The findings, published in the November 21 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, are also good news for babies. About 2,500 die every year and more are born mentally retarded because their mothers pass on the virus.

In the report, which followed two phase-three clinical trials, doctors gave both men and women the vaccine against genital herpes. The vaccine worked only for the women, and only for those who had not been exposed to the type of herpes that infects the mouth.

There has never been a vaccine for herpes before. Drug company GlaxoSmithKline funded the research.

The vaccine will not be available commercially for at least five years but already some doctors believe all girls should be given the vaccine along with the other childhood vaccines.

"People have been trying to make a herpes vaccine without success for more than 60 years," said lead author of the paper, Lawrence Stanberry, who is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "This is the first one to prove effective."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 45 million Americans, or about one in five, have contracted genital herpes, technically known as herpes simplex virus type 2. It is different than type 1, which is a closely related virus that causes similar small, sometimes painful fever blisters around the lips and nostrils in about 80 percent of Americans.

Stanberry said vaccinating girls and women not infected with either type could significantly reduce the spread of herpes.

"These are very exciting findings," he said.

As a result of the findings, the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline are collaborating on new studies, scheduled to begin this month, that will test the vaccine on 7,550 women between 18 and 30 years old who do not have genital herpes, said the study's co-author, Stephen Tyring, director of the UTMB Center for Clinical Studies.

The painful lesions caused by genital herpes can also increase susceptibility to other sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

The paper's authors said it was not clear why the vaccine is effective in women but not men. They said it might have to do with how the virus enters the body, which is thought to be different for men and women.

Women are twice as likely to contract herpes as men, Stanberry said.



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