Medical & Pharmaceutical Treatments for Herpes


According to a survey conducted by the American Social Health Association in 1991, most people diagnosed with Herpes had tried between two and five different therapies.  These included prescription drugs, OTC “cold sore” treatments, herbal remedies, vitamins, nutritional changes, psychotherapy, etc.  Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular treatments.

Medically Based Pharmaceutical Treatments

While there is no cure yet for Herpes, there are 3 anti-viral drugs that have been proven to have a high efficacy in suppressing the Herpes Simplex Virus.  These drugs also have been proven to significantly reduce the severity, duration, and frequency of occurrences.  The 3 drugs are: Acyclovir, manufactured by Glaxo Smith-Kline under the trade name of Zovirax, now also available in generic; Valacyclovir, a “prodrug” of acyclovir under the name of Valtrex; and Famciclovir under the brand of Famvir.  Valacyclovir and Famciclovir in clinical trials have proven to be more effective in their “uptake” or absorption by the body than acyclovir.

Acyclovir has been widely available since 1981, has been shown to be very safe and effective, yet has again been denied approval for over the counter sales (OTC) by the US FDA, although it can be obtained in other countries OTC.  There is now also a generic version of acyclovir available.  All three drugs must be prescribed by a licensed physician.  Famvir and Valtrex are now available for both intermittent “acute” and daily “suppressive” therapy.

There are basically two types of drug intervention for HSV: “Acute therapy” and “Suppressive therapy.”

Acute therapy means taking the drug to reduce or prevent a specific, individual outbreak.  It involves taking regular doses of the medication for a period of usually 5 days, starting with the first signs of impending outbreak.  Since these medications work on new viruses as they are replicating and coming out of latency, the best results are obtained by starting treatment at the very first indication of symptoms – tingling, itching, or burning, before a lesion shows.  If treatment is started after a blister or lesion has formed, it may lessen or prevent any subsequent lesions, but it will not shorten the duration of the current lesion by very much if at all.

Suppressive therapy, which is sometimes called prophylactic therapy, involves a daily regimen of medication to “suppress” the activation of the HSV virus.  Suppressive therapy can be very useful for those patients who have a high frequency of recurrence, or who experience severe physically and/or psychologically troublesome outbreaks.  Also, some people who want to reduce the risk of transmission to their sexual partners take suppressive doses of antiviral medication to reduce both the rate of outbreaks and asymptomatic shedding.  The anti-viral medications can be quite expensive, and buying them in larger quantities can help reduce the long-term costs.  Some people may wish to consult with their doctor about a program, and see if she/he can arrange for a renewable refill in conjunction with their insurance company for ease and economy.

There are other drugs for the treatment of HSV in special situations, including Foscarnet (phosphonoformic acid), which is given by injection to severely immunosuppressed patients; idoxuridine, for external use in ocular herpes infections only; and vidarabine also used for eye infections.


Topical Treatments

There are a variety of topical products on the market labeled for “cold sores,” “fever blisters.”  There are no OTC products specifically labeled for genital herpes.  Except for the prescription drug Zovirax, which acts on the virus itself, the predominant action of these products is to relieve symptoms by softening the sores or scabs, drying the infection site, and/or reducing pain.  The topical ointment form of acyclovir (by prescription in the US, OTC in Australia) has been shown to have some effectiveness during a primary episode, but very limited effectiveness in recurrent episodes, due to the action of the drug on emerging viral DNA, and as it is not well-absorbed into the skin.  It does help to reduce viral shedding, and may decrease the length of outbreak by a day or two.  There are several new topical products being tested and seeking approval from the FDA for sale in the US.  We’ll keep you posted as they become available.

Many of the available OTC products contain ingredients, such as alcohol, which can cause stinging and further irritation of the infected area.  Topical creams and ointments may even slow the healing of HSV outbreaks by over-drying or irritating the site.  Many also contain lidocaine or benzocaine as a temporary numbing agent, only partially effective, which can lead to allergic reactions in some people.  Some OTC topical medications labeled for treatment of cuts, wounds, or infections also contain corticosteroids, which are not effective against HSV, and can initiate and prolong outbreaks.  Experts strongly advise against using any kind of topical cortisone-type cream on herpes, as they suppress the local immunity, and may worsen outbreaks significantly.

Medical experts generally recommend keeping herpes outbreaks clean, dry, and uncovered.  Many women, who may experience extreme burning and pain during urination, find covering the lesions with petroleum jelly or an antibiotic ointment prior to urination to be very helpful.  Occasional use of antibiotic ointments, while having no effect on the virus or outbreak itself, may also help to prevent secondary bacterial infection in some cases, and may soothe areas subject to friction.  Some people have found Aloe to be effective as a soothing agent for areas subject to chafing.

A Cure for Herpes?

Currently, there is no documented evidence of any treatment or product that can cure Herpes.   Beware of any treatments touted as “cures,” and remember the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

HerpeSite knows that there are many dedicated people and organizations working diligently to find new treatments and even a cure for herpes.  It is our belief that when a legitimate possible or definite CURE has been discovered, there will be much fanfare and celebration.  Indeed, the people who discover a cure for herpes will become historical figures like Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk, Madame Curie, and Albert Einstein, and they will no doubt win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

There have been, and are, many miracles in this world, and a cure may not necessarily be discovered through or by an established medical or pharmaceutical company, and likely may come from a small or surprising independent or “alternative” source.  Even so, beware of any treatments touted as “cures,” and remember the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

If you see a product promoted as a herpes “cure” – it’s just someone selling you something!

The good news is that with time and taking good care of yourself, most people find that outbreaks and other aspects of Herpes tend to reduce in both number and severity.  So that’s something to look forward to!  Often, the hardest part of dealing with Herpes is the rampant social stigma fueled by ignorance.  Herpes is a VERY common virus – the HSV1 virus that causes Cold Sores on the mouth now causes about half of Genital Herpes infections, too.  And there is nothing shameful about Cold Sores, so there *should* be nothing shameful about the same virus that’s just in a different location.

More tips on how to improve your physical and emotional well-being to support a healthy and strong immune system can be found on the Health & Wellness page of HerpeSite.

A discussion of some Natural and “Alternative” treatments and remedies for Herpes for those who wish to avoid the pharmaceutical route or want to add some natural efforts to their treatment regimen can be found here.


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