A recent study showed that more than one-third of participants surveyed in suburban Atlanta tested positive for the virus that causes genital herpes. The study, presented recently at a meeting of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Ottawa, shows that patients in affluent suburbs are as likely as lower-income patients to contract the disease.

Only 5 percent of the 915 Atlanta-area patients had a history of genital herpes, which can be asymptomatic. Atlanta had the highest rate of infection of the six cities in the survey, and a higher rate than the national average of about 25 percent. The study's authors used results from blood tests of patients at six unidentified, randomly selected primary care physician's offices in suburban Atlanta. Combining the Atlanta results with those of more than 4,500 patients in suburbs of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Denver, researchers found that one in four patients tested positive.

"These findings help to break the stereotype that there are only certain types of people that have herpes," said Douglas Fleming, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

The study may also have an impact on doctors. "When you talk to private physicians, there's a tendency to think that isn't really true of their population," said Peter Leone, co-author and an associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "If physicians don't believe that it's important for their patient population ... they may not think of doing testing."

CDC estimates 1 million people are newly infected with the virus each year in the United States.