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When she had no one to talk to about her herpes diagnosis, TikTok became her listening ear.

Friday, 27 October 2023 12:24 News

21-year-old Sophie Miller felt like she had no one to talk to after being diagnosed with herpes last week, so she turned to TikTok.

In an open video posted on her secondary "burner" account on October 11th, the 21-year-old Detroit resident created a video to document her experience with this process. The video begins with her describing her symptoms - burning after urination, swollen lymph nodes in the groin, sores on her genitals - before going to the doctor. She then describes her anxiety before the appointment and finally breaks down on camera when sharing the news of her diagnosis.

The response was overwhelming: as of Wednesday noon, the video had been viewed by over 7.2 million people. Many commenters shared their own stories in solidarity. Others thanked Miller for her openness, considering the embarrassment they felt after their diagnosis.

"Many people reached out to me, shared their stories, and thanked me," Miller said. "And I just didn't expect that. ... It was very helpful for me and, I'm sure, for others who have just been diagnosed or have been diagnosed in the past."

The popularity of Miller's video suggests a demand for candid discussions about sexually transmitted infections on the internet, especially from sexual health advocates and people living with viruses like herpes. In recent years, TikTok has become a platform where many health educators - from doctors to sexologists - have engaged in more positive conversations about sex. According to some experts, discussions about sexually transmitted diseases and infections can help reduce stigma and increase awareness.

A TikTok representative did not immediately respond to a request for comments on Wednesday.

"It's these brave individuals who step forward and simply say, 'I'm going to talk about this,' who are breaking down these barriers and stigmas," said Dr. Kate Jerome, a virologist researching herpes at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.

She added that sharing one's experience dealing with the virus can open the door for others, and a critical mass of voices can then pressure governments and healthcare organizations to fund research.

Herpes is common and treatable. According to the World Health Organization, over 3.7 billion people worldwide under the age of 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1, the virus diagnosed in Miller. This is approximately 67% of the population in that age group. According to the WHO, another 491 million people aged 15 to 49 are affected by HSV-2, which primarily causes genital herpes.

"Silence around this issue and a refusal to test are detrimental to physical, mental, and emotional health," reads a blog post by Planned Parenthood.

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