A Beverly Hills man has been hit with a $2.4 million judgment in a suit alleging that he negligently infected his soon-to-be-ex wife with genital herpes.

The suit highlights the unsettling prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and the ease with which they can be spread.

The unfortunate transmission occurred after the defendant and his wife reconciled following a month-long split in mid-2007, according to the complaint. Not long after they kissed and made up, the plaintiff began experiencing "severe burning, itching and swelling," and was diagnosed with genital herpes shortly thereafter.

It was only after this diagnosis that the plaintiff learned that her husband engaged in unprotected sex with several women outside their marriage, behavior that the complaint described as "high-risk.”

The award, which was handed down by a Los Angeles jury, gave the wife $500,000 for past pain and suffering, $1.63 million for future pain and suffering, $250,000 for future medical damages, and $62,000 in punitive damages.

Disease surprisingly prevalent

Herpes litigation is surprisingly common, although less so when one takes a look at the prevalence of the disease itself. According to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 16 percent of Americans are infected with HSV-2, the strain most commonly associated with genital herpes. The disease is much more prevalent among African-Americans, with more than 39 percent of all blacks -- and a stunning 48 percent of black women -- carrying the disease.

HSV-1, which is the main cause of oral herpes, or "cold sores,” is more prevalent, affecting somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of the public.

The disease's prevalence also varies by geographic region. A 2008 study, for example, found that fully one in four people living in New York City are infected with genital herpes.

The amount awarded in the aforementioned case may seem large, but it pales in comparison to awards that have been handed down in similar cases. Just last year, another California jury awarded $6.7 million to a woman who said she contracted herpes after sleeping with a wealthy businessman. That award broke down to $1.5 million for pain and suffering, $2.5 million in compensatory damages, and $2.75 million in punitive damages.

The plaintiff's attorney in that case said the eye-popping verdict was "a clear message to all persons infected with a sexually transmitted disease that this type of behavior simply will not be tolerated."

High-profile cases

Several well known celebrities have been accused of infecting their sexual partners with herpes in recent years. Most memorably, in 2006, then Atlanta Falcons (and now Philadelphia Eagles) quarterback Michael Vick settled a lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed that Vick gave her herpes after they had unprotected sex in April 2003. The lawsuit claimed that Vick secretly sought treatment at herpes clinics using the alias "Ron Mexico."

Herpes is an especially insidious disease; 80 percent of individuals carrying the virus never experience outbreaks or even know that they are infected. But these individuals can still pass the disease on to others, who may or may not themselves experience symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active should always use protection, and regularly be tested for herpes, along with other relatively common STD's such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV (which can cause genital warts), and, of course, HIV.