Experts are of the opinion that infection of newborns with herpes type 1 and 2 should be routinely reported to the authorities. Currently this is not an established procedure in most cases.
In a commentary published in the September issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases, researchers in herpes infections, from University of Washington Center for AIDS and STD in Seattle, point out that unlike all comparable health problems in newborns, neonatal herpes is a reportable condition in a few states.
Without treatment, neonatal herpes is fatal in 50% to 85% of cases and up to two thirds of the survivors have lifelong disabilities. Death and disability remain common even with treatment, partly because the infection can be difficult to recognize, so that many infants do not get treated in time.
The report estimates that at least 460 cases and perhaps as many as 2,800 cases of neonatal herpes occur each year in the United States. By contrast, congenital rubella and HIV infection, syphilis, and gonorrhea in newborns all are less common than neonatal herpes. Yet these are reportable in almost all states and are tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most cases are due to HSV type 2, the virus that causes most cases of genital herpes, one of the most common of all STDs. Neonatal herpes has long been considered difficult to diagnose and prevent, probably contributing to attitudes about routine case reporting. According to the report, however, recent advances in diagnosis of HSV infections and in treatment have eliminated those barriers.
Some of the reasons due to which the disease is not reported, according to the researchers are misunderstanding by both the public and the healthcare establishment about the frequency of genital herpes and the breadth of the populations at risk, coupled with reticence of many healthcare providers and some public health agencies to forthrightly address the potential of diagnosing STD in persons seemingly at low risk.
The report calls on the central medical authorities to request reports of neonatal herpes cases from all states; on states to pass legislation and develop regulations requiring routine reporting; and on all healthcare providers, agencies, and professional societies to support to the national health agenda.