Herpedemic

Tony Smith

  • Herpes: The Facts by J.K. Oates
    Penguin, 123 pp, £1.50, February 1983, ISBN 0 14 046619 3

Almost every year some new disease becomes a focus of prurient, even voyeuristic attention on the part of the British public. The choice seemingly depends more on the whims of fashion than on the importance of the disorder for public health. In 1983 the headline-maker is herpes, a virus infection of the genitalia that is neither new nor especially common, but since 1980 has been the subject of unprecedented coverage on television and in print in the United States. Fashions of this kind rarely last more than a year or two – who now remembers or is much concerned about Lassa fever or legionnaire’s disease? The herpes hype may, however, be rather more important than some of its predecessors, since the fears, anxieties and guilts it generates have quite devastating effects in individual cases.

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