Herpes is a viral sexually transmitted disease and once infected, cannot be cured. While there are no permanent cures available for herpes yet, the infection and outbreaks can be effectively managed using the right treatment that involves prescription anti-viral drugs and over the counter medicines and creams.
Herpes treatments can be used to:
- Reduce the healing time of the outbreaks
- Reduce the pain and severity of the symptoms
- Reduce viral shedding and the rate of recurrence
- Reduce the risk of transferring the virus to another individual
Herpes Anti Viral Medical Treatment (FDA Approved)
Typically, most individuals found out that they have contracted herpes infection when there is an outbreak of symptoms such as blisters and sores. Once the diagnosis of herpes has been confirmed, the doctor will usually prescribe a brief course (5 to 10 days) of antiviral medications to help treat the sores and relieve the symptoms of an initial outbreak.
Current FDA approved prescription oral antiviral drugs commonly used to effectively treat herpes simplex virus and manage outbreaks include:
- Acyclovir (Zovirax): This medication is designed to control the spread of the infection and functions by limiting the rate at which the virus multiples. Acyclovir does not kill or completely remove the virus from the body. It can however be used to reduce the symptoms linked with an infection. The average dosage for Acyclovir is 5 daily tablets taken over a minimum of 5 days.
- Famiciclovir (Famvir): Famiciclovir is an FDA approved antiviral drug that can be used in treating genital herpes. It can be used with individuals who have compromised or normal immune systems. Patients diagnosed with recurrent herpes are required to maintain a dosage of 1000 mg taken twice a day (for genital herpes) or 1500 mg take once (for cold sores). Famiciclovir can be used to suppress recurrent herpes infection.
- Valacyclovir (Valtrex): Valacyclovir is an antiviral drug that can be used to dampen the spread of the virus around the body. Valcyclovir can also be used to reduce the severity of the symptoms that emerge during an outbreak. Valacyclovir is a recommended treatment option for women who are infected with the virus. It can also be used with children who are aged 12 years and above.
When taken orally, these antiviral drugs works to control the spread of the infection by preventing the reproduction of the virus, thus decreasing the duration of the outbreak. Severe cases may be treated with intravenous (IV) acyclovir.
Individuals taking these medications may experience some mild side effects that could include headache, nausea, and diarrhea but otherwise the drugs are documented as safe even for long term treatment for herpes.
To be effective, the medications needed to be started immediately when prodomal symptoms occur or within the first 24 hours of an outbreak. However neither of these medications can completely eliminate the virus from the body and recurrent attacks can happen once medication is discontinued.
For patients with mild recurrent herpes (less than 6 outbreaks a year), the doctor may recommend episodic treatment or intermittent therapy for the infection. For episodic treatment of herpes, the doctor will usually prescribe a 5 day course of antiviral medication in advance so that the patient can begin treatment whenever there are prodromal symptoms to prevent outbreaks or on the very onset of any flare ups.
In cases of chronic herpes infection where patients experience frequent outbreaks (more than 6 flare ups annually) or severe symptoms, the doctor will recommend a long-term anti-viral drug therapy, known as suppressive treatment, where aciclovir, famciclovir or valacyclovir will be taken in low dosage, daily over a period for 6 to 12 months.
Suppressive therapy can help to prevent frequent recurrences by as much as 80% per year. Patients who are on daily suppressive treatment can also reduce the risk of transmission of the herpes simplex virus to their sex partner.
Important: Antiviral medication may not be a recommended option if a person has suffers from HIV or a weak immune system. Recent recipients of a transplant (bone marrow or kidney) should aso consult their physician before commencing the medication.
Non Prescriptive Treatment For Herpes
While the prescription medications aciclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir are considered the most effective form of treatment for herpes infection, the high costs associated with these drugs for a single treatment may cause some individuals to seek other alternative and cheaper form of treatments.
The following are some non-prescription treatments that can be used to make the outbreak more manageable.
- For patients who are experiencing recurrent outbreaks, non-prescription medicine such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be taken orally to help fight the symptoms of pain and fever and provide temporary relief especially during mild recurrent outbreaks.
- Topical creams such as HERP-B-GONE or Abreva have been scientifically proven to be equally effective in the treatment of a herpes outbreak when it is applied directly on the lesions. With a single application, these fast acting anti-viral gels dries out the lesions and provide immediate relief from the pain, itching and discomfort. External symptoms typically disappear after 2 to 3 days.
- Dietary supplements that contain L-lysine, zinc, lactobacillus acidophilus, vitamins C and E have also been identified to be beneficial in the treatment of herpes. However, there are limited scientific research to support the use of these compounds yet.
Other additional ways that can help manage the pain or discomfort during a herpes outbreak include:
- Drinking plenty of water to hydrate the body to flush out toxins.
- Avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight, ultra-violet light and heat.
- Cleaning the infected areas with a salt solution and keeping the sores dry.
- Wearing loose fitting clothes and underwear can help speed up recovery.
- Getting plenty of sleep and rest and learning how to manage stress.
Medical Research On Herpes Treatment On The Horizon
Despite the limited funding, medical advancements are constantly being made on herpes treatment.
- For instance at Duke University, a revolutionary approach to eradicate the herpes simplex virus is been conducted by Prof Bryan Cullen and his team. This herpes treatment is aimed at forcing the virus out of its hibernation state, allowing antiviral medication such as acyclovir to be used to completely kill off the virus without damaging the nerve cells.
- At the University of Florida, progress is being made into a new herpes treatment that could inhibit the strains of the herpes simplex virus and thus preventing it from infecting nerve cells. Initial experiments have been proven effective in mice and rabbits, however further research is still required before actual tests can be used on humans. This research is focused on both HSV-1 and HSV-2.
- A recent study at Montana State University by virologist Bill Halford showed that mice which were vaccinated with a genetically modified strain of the virus showed no sign of the disease after 30 days. This herpes treatment, if successful would lead to a human vaccine that can effectively make people immune to the herpes simplex virus.