One of the most difficult aspects of living with herpes is the knowledge that it’s with you forever. While there are many ways to treat the symptoms of the herpes simplex virus (HSV), there are no cures yet. That’s why many medical researchers consider the search for a herpes cure to be akin to the search for the Holy Grail.
Antiviral drugs are most often prescribed to treat herpes today, such as acyclovir and famciclovir, while they effectively suppress the symptoms of an active herpes infection, the medications do little to inhibit viral shedding. Furthermore, they are effective only in treating cells that are already infected with the virus.
However, the advent of research and latest technology has helped experts to have finally aced the possible cure for herpes – with better and promising treatment of existing herpes infections, and experimental vaccines to prevent infections from occurring.
Pritelivir – A Different Perspective On Viral Replication
Pritelivir, a new antiviral drug that attacks the HSV early in the replication process, has shown some great initial results. The news is good for several reasons: First, subjects taking pritelivir experienced dramatically less viral shedding than the control group in the study. And pritelivir is active in non-infected cells as well as those already infected.
Additionally, since this drug works differently than antivirals already approved for use, it may provide a weapon against drug-resistant herpes viruses. It’s also possible that pritelivir could be used in combination with current drugs to deliver a powerful one-two punch to HSV.
Targeting MicroRNA To Suppress Dormant Virus “Awakening”
At Duke University, studies have focused on the herpes virus’ unique ability to lie dormant in the body for extended periods of time, and then reactivate. Since current treatments only apply to active viruses, these latent viruses survive despite drug therapy.
The key to making this research into a viable herpes treatment, according to researchers, will be in learning how to use single strands of RNA, called microRNA, to activate the dormant virus, thereby making them vulnerable to antiviral drugs.
Gene Targeting With Hammerhead Ribozymes
Researchers at the University of Florida are taking a similar approach to combatting viral infection. Their work also focuses on the herpes virus’ ability to reactivate and recur over time. Rather than seeking to activate the latent herpes virus, however, this study seeks to keep it dormant and thereby eliminate the possibility of recurring infection.
Using a specially created RNA enzyme called a hammerhead ribozyme, researchers were able to keep the virus from reactivating in test animals. If the technique works equally well for humans, this gene therapy will keep the virus from causing repeated herpes outbreaks. And, like pritelivir, it will provide an alternative to drugs that viruses already tolerate.
More On The Molecular Level: Akt Inhibitors
In this rather complex study, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University addressed the process of viral cell penetration – a step earlier in the infection process than either viral replication or shedding. They discovered what they call the “key” to viral penetration, and they think they understand how to stop it from happening.
They identified one molecule, Akt, as providing the critical signal that starts the infection process. By inhibiting the body’s production of Akt, they were able to significantly reduce herpes infections in human cells exposed to the virus.
From Treatment To Cure
These innovative cures for herpes are encouraging, but what’s truly exciting is the possibility of a herpes vaccine. A vaccine has the potential to nearly eradicate a disease, by helping the body to develop an immunity to a specific infection.
Essentially, a vaccine introduces a weakened version of a given pathogen — the measles virus, for example — into the body. In fighting off the effects of the weakened virus, the body produces antibodies. Later, if the virus is re-introduced, production of those antibodies is stimulated and the body is able to stave off infection.
Probably the most famous example of this is the polio vaccine. In 1952, there were 58,000 recorded polio cases in the United States. But widespread use of vaccinations gradually decreased incidences of this disease, and the last known case of polio in the U.S. occurred in 1979.
That’s the goal of a herpes vaccination: prevention, and eventually eradication. And recent studies are showing remarkable progress toward that goal.
HerpV: An Over-The-Counter Herpes Vaccine?
Much like pritelivir, the experimental vaccine HerpV focuses on viral shedding as the crucial function to suppress. And like pritelivir, HerpV has shown some real promise in Phase 1 and 2 studies. Patients in these studies experienced a 15% reduction in viral shedding while taking no additional antiviral medications.
Although patients in the trial received injections of the vaccine, HerpV is slated to become an “off the shelf” product, indicating that, if approved, it will be available without a prescription.
Raising Immune Levels With GEN-003
Perhaps even more interesting are the results of early clinical trials for a vaccine currently called GEN-003. This vaccine also demonstrated positive reductions in viral shedding – in some cases shedding was reduced by as much as 50%.
Reports from Genocea, the company developing the vaccine, also indicate measurable increases in the immune response of T-cells, which are known to be instrumental in fighting off various diseases and infections.
Further Down The Road: The Possibility Of A True Herpes Cure
While classified as vaccines by their developers, HerpV and GEN-003 are still mostly targeted at responding to the symptoms of an active infection. There are, however, two vaccines in the very early stages of clinical trials that are aimed directly at preventing a herpes infection from ever taking hold in the body.
The first of these trial vaccines is currently called HSV529, and it’s being developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The vaccine is the result of a 10-year partnership between doctors at Harvard Medical School and the NIAID.
HSV529 is formulated, like most vaccines, from a defective form of the herpes virus. If successful, the altered virus will stimulate immune responses in the body that will prevent infection from active HSV. Study of the vaccine is in the early trial stage, and researchers hope to complete this initial phase some time in 2016.
The other vaccine currently in development has no name as yet. Research for the vaccine is being conducted by Coridon, an Australian biotech company working in conjunction with the University of Queensland. Like HSV529, the vaccine is designed to stimulate immune response to the herpes virus.
What’s different about the Coridon vaccine, though, is the way that response is being created. Instead of introducing a weakened version of the herpes virus, this vaccine uses a small section of DNA to produce T-cells and stimulate the immune response.
Phase 1 trials appear to have been successful, and a second round of trials is in the works. Researchers at Coridon, however, emphasize that even in the most ideal of circumstances, they’ll need between 6 and 10 years of further studies before their vaccine becomes commercially available.
Living In The Now
The future for a complete cure for herpes looks extremely bright. But those who are already dealing with a herpes infection understand the importance of living in the present. And for the present, there are two main approaches to managing the symptoms of HSV: medical treatment with prescription drugs like acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir, or with natural remedies.
Many of these natural remedies have proven to be highly effective when used to heal herpes sores and decrease the number and frequency of herpes outbreaks. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular natural treatments for herpes:
The connection between the amino acids lysine and arginine and herpes activity is fairly well documented. Arginine seems to promote the formation of herpes sores, while lysine tends to prevent herpes breakouts and also helps to heal existing sores quickly. If you’re looking to control herpes through your diet, the solution is clear: eat foods that are low in arginine and high in lysine.
Lysine can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Dosages of 1 to 3 grams per day are suggested. Avoid taking higher doses of lysine for extended periods of time, as it may raise cholesterol levels and increase the amount of calcium your body absorbs.
A resin made by bees, propolis is full of immune-boosting, infection-fighting antioxidants and flavonoids. You’ll find propolis in ointments, lotions, and even some high-quality organic honeys. As a topical treatment for herpes lesions, propolis has proven to be a quick and effective healer.
Bee propolis is an extremely safe antibacterial and antiviral that can be used anywhere on the body (except for the eyes) with one major exception: people who are allergic to bee pollen or who suffer from asthma should not use propolis, as it can cause an allergic reaction.
Black Tea Tannins
Chinese herbalists have known the anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of black tea tannins for thousands of years. It’s taken Western medicine a while to catch up, but recent studies now appear to confirm the healing powers of black tea.
It’s a simple and effective way to treat an active herpes infection. Just brew a cup of black tea, let the tea bag cool until you can touch it comfortably, and apply the tea bag directly to a herpes lesion. The tannins in the tea will ease pain and itching, and help the sore to heal quickly. Bonus: black tea is a great source of caffeine, so enjoy a little pick-me-up by drinking the tea while treating a herpes sore with the tea bag.
Taking liquid Siberian ginseng extract is a great way reduce the duration and intensity of genital herpes outbreaks. Ginseng is known to have the ability to strengthen the immune response, which may make it helpful in fighting off the effects of an active herpes episode. The recommended dosage is one-half to a full tablespoon three times daily during a herpes outbreak.
This popular remedy for the common cold does seem to offer some protection against viral infection. You can find echinacea in tinctures and capsules, or as an herbal tea. There’s not a lot of evidence, however, that echinacea is effective when used as a herpes treatment.
Another standby of Chinese herbal medicine, licorice root has long been used to treat herpes, shingles, and cold sores. Liquid extract of licorice root can be applied directly to herpes sores; you can also make a paste with powdered licorice root and almond oil.
This gentle, effective antiviral can be used as a topical treatment four or five times a day. You can also take it in capsule form twice a day during a herpes outbreak.
While it may be risky to ingest high doses of zinc regularly, in a cream or ointment zinc (often sold as zinc oxide cream) is a well-known and effective treatment for herpes sores. For especially quick recovery time, use it in combination with lysine.
Monolaurin is a chemical that occurs naturally in the human body. As a concentrated supplement it’s called Lauricidin. Either way, it’s made from lauric acid, which is a component of both coconut oil and human breast milk. The antiviral power of monolaurin/lauricidin lies in its ability to weaken the outer membrane of the herpes virus.
Monolaurin/lauricidin reduces the severity and frequency of herpes outbreaks with an effectiveness that’s similar to the prescription medications. While it’s possible to use coconut oil as a source of monolaurin – and coconut oil is a great dietary addition for many reasons – you’d have to eat quite a lot of it to get its antiviral benefits. That’s why it may be easier to take a supplement in concentrated form, as lauricidin.
Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm)
Melissa officinalis, or lemon balm as it’s commonly called, is a versatile and proven antiviral and one of the most effective topical treatments for herpes sores. It reduces healing time dramatically, and can also lower the stress levels that incite herpes outbreaks.
Lemon balm, when applied directly to sores, is a great painkiller as well as an effective healer. You can also drink it as a tea, and enjoy its refreshing minty, lemony flavor; apply the tea bag directly to sores the same way you would use black tea; or add it to your diet in the form of a concentrated extract.
Red Marine Algae
A relative newcomer to the herpes treatment scene, red marine algae (Gigartina) has shown the ability to stimulate immune response, lessening the intensity and frequency of herpes outbreaks. To prevent outbreaks from occurring, try 1000 milligrams of Gigartina daily. During an active outbreak, increase the dosage to 2500 milligrams.
Long used as a home remedy for burns and cuts, aloe vera has also shown promise as a topical treatment for genital herpes, especially for men. Aloe vera is readily available in creams and gels – you can even keep an aloe plant growing in your home and break open one of its thick leaves for an easy source of this useful substance.
Epsom Salt Bath
When you’re suffering from a painful, itchy genital herpes outbreak, one of the most soothing remedies possible is a simple bath in warm water infused with Epsom salts. The Epsom salts ease the pain of inflamed tissues and dry out herpes sores, helping them to heal faster. It’s also a great way to relax.
Applying Baking Soda
Along with Epsom salts, baking soda is a safe, inexpensive way to dry out herpes lesions, relieve pain and itching, and speed healing. For best results, cover a cotton ball completely with baking soda, and apply it directly to the sore. (It’s perfectly safe to use baking soda on sensitive skin, even genitals.) Avoid dipping the cotton ball into the baking soda more than once.
The best times to apply baking soda to sores are after a shower, so that sores are softer and more absorbent, and before going to bed, so the baking soda stays put.