Drug Treatments to Control Herpes


             Infection with Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) often goes undetected. This is because HSV has an incubation period that can range from a few weeks to over a year. Most people infected with the virus discover their condition either from an initial outbreak, or the results of a blood test. The realization that a person has HSV can be rather overwhelming. These individuals, however, can take comfort in knowing that certain drug regimens control the frequency, duration, and severity of outbreaks and are relatively affordable. It must be stressed, though, that while drugs to control the infection are available and effective, there currently is no cure for a Herpes infection. People who choose to engage in sexual activity with new and experienced partners are strongly advised to take precautions. Using condoms will not only prevent pregnancy, but will also prevent against the transmission of various STIs (including Herpes).


            Among the available drugs, Acyclovir (ACV) is the original and remains one of the best options for people suffering HSV outbreaks. ACV can be taken orally, intravenously (passed directly into the body through an IV), and topically. Oral ACV spreads widely throughout the body via bodily fluids, topical ACV works in the area of application but has little effect elsewhere in the body, and intravenous ACV is reserved for patients with compromised immune systems (such as those already suffering from HIV). Acyclovir works to stop the replication of Herpes virus DNA. It has been approved by the FDA to treat both HSV-1 and HSV-2 during initial outbreaks, recurrent outbreaks, and as a therapy to suppress the virus’ activity for extended periods of time. For best results, an Acyclovir regimen should begin at the first sign of Herpes sores or lesions.


            While Acyclovir has, and continues to, provide relief to countless numbers of HSV sufferers, a newer drug has developed to improve the overall treatment process. Valacyclovir was created to provide better levels of absorption within the body. Its mechanisms for action within the body are the same. Valacyclovir is intended for use in the treatment of both genital and oral Herpes, helping to curb infections by reducing the frequency and severity of outbreaks.


            Acyclovir and Valacyclovir can be used to treat Herpes infections once symptoms are already present, but both can also be taken in daily regimens as part of a suppressive therapy. The dosage of a daily regimen is typically smaller (i.e. one 500mg pill daily versus three 1g pills at the first sign of an outbreak), although the actual dosage is determined by a medical professional based on the average number of outbreaks experienced in a year. When taken in a low dosage twice daily, Valacyclovir has a 44% likelihood of aborting lesions before they fully develop, though the chance of this happening is closely related to the quickness with which treatment is started. The chance of the lesions fully aborting is almost twice as likely when treatment is begun less than six hours after the onset of symptoms.


            Outbreaks suffered by persons infected with Herpes are an unpleasant and often painful reminder of the virus’ presence within their body. Equally troublesome is the potentially challenging feat of finding sexual partners after revealing their condition. This is where Valacyclovir provides an exciting and unexpected benefit: when taken in a daily suppressive regimen, Valacyclovir was found in an eight-month study to reduce Herpes transmission by 50% among susceptible partners. Persons infected with HSV can spread the virus outside of a detected outbreak, creating the risk of transmission even when no symptoms are present; suppressive regimens of Valacyclovir work to decrease asymptomatic shedding.


            For people who are facing the likelihood of a lifelong Herpes infection, these drugs are an important tool that can improve their quality of life. Both Acyclovir and Valacyclovir work to decrease the severity, intensity, and duration of outbreaks and are available in a variety of dosing strategies (depending on the preference of the patient). It must be stressed again that, while these drugs provide significant improvements in the lives of people infected with Herpes, there remains no cure. Therefore, all of us here at SexInfo strongly encourage the use of condoms to prevent the transmission of STIs altogether.



Rajalakshmi, R., Rashmi Kumari, and Devinder Mohan Thappa. "Acyclovir versus Valacyclovir." Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology & Leprology (2010): 439-44. Print.