In my line of work, every now and then, I receive e-mails and letters from people with genital herpes. This is the primary means by which I have come to gain some small, limited appreciation of how HSV-2 infection and genital herpes affect people in ways that simply cannot be measured with an antibody titer, a PCR, or any other calipers that a scientist may have in their toolbox.
Below, I have copied (word-for-word) an e-mail I received from an anonymous individual seven years ago. It forever changed how I looked at the problem of HSV-2 genital herpes, and made me realize that you have to think about this disease through the eyes of the individual to see its impact. Looking at the HSV-2 genital herpes epidemic from 40,000 feet, as scientists are prone to do, is fine for understanding the epidemiology of HSV-2 spread. However, such detached, sterile descriptions of the frequency of HSV-2 seropositive carriers simply does not lend itself to understanding why HSV-2 genital herpes is a big deal to people who carry the virus.
We possess the requisite knowledge and systems to deliver an effective HSV-2 vaccine to the human population. E-mails such as the one below lead me to believe that it is time we did so.
– Bill Halford
I recently read an online article about your research into a potential vaccine against the herpes virus. I wanted to thank you for your efforts in this field and, beg you to continue. Society seems to reflexively associate the virus with promiscuity. But, as I am sure you are already aware, this is not always true. Some, after their marriage ended as a result of the rigors of graduate school, find out that their wife carried the virus, but never told them. Such news can be paralyzing. And it’s not just the fear that no one will ever want them. That is a selfish fear. It is the fear that one could inflict that same feeling of shame and anger in another; which, in turn, prevents them from entertaining the notion of dating and possibly marrying again.
The virus may not be life threatening, but the emotional effects are nevertheless malignant. It is not always secreted away in some back alley or brothel. Sometimes it teaches Sunday school and gives money to charities. Sometimes it practices a profession and leads a very healthy lifestyle. And while its host participates in these activities, it authors silent words of despair and loneliness. It wages war against the best days and amplifies the worst. I ask of you two things: first, that you would keep the origin of this email absolutely confidential; and secondly, that you not give up in your pursuit for a vaccine. It does matter. It is important. And it could very well save lives, in every possible sense of the word.