Treatment of Genital Herpes

Published: 30th January 2009
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Treatment

Although there is no cure for genital herpes, there are medications that significantly reduce the frequency and duration of outbreaks and have few side effects in most people.

In 1985, the FDA approved Zovirax (acyclovir), the first genital herpes drug, which is now available in a generic form. More recently, the FDA approved two other drugs to treat genital herpes: Famvir (famciclovir) and Valtrex (valacyclovir).

All three of these oral antiviral drugs can be taken either episodically-when a person has an outbreak or feels one coming on, or suppressively-daily to help prevent the recurrence of outbreaks. Acyclovir and valacyclovir are also FDA-approved to treat an initial episode of genital herpes to help heal the lesions and to lessen the pain.

When taken episodically at the first sign of a tingling or itching sensation, an antiviral drug may prevent an outbreak altogether. "Once an outbreak occurs, if the treatment is started soon enough, the drugs can lessen the severity and shorten the healing time," says the FDA's Kukich. When taken suppressively, the drugs don't always prevent outbreaks, but help them to occur less frequently.

All three of the drugs work by interfering with DNA synthesis to prevent the virus from reproducing, says Kukich. Famciclovir and valacyclovir, which are better absorbed by the body, can be taken less often than acyclovir. For natural Homeopathic Relief to attack Herpes Symptoms click here
Diagnosing Genital Herpes

Herpes can be detected by a viral culture of a lesion, if one is present, or a blood test. Ashley recommends both methods.

With a viral culture, a doctor swabs a lesion to pick up cells, puts the swab in a special solution, and sends it to a lab for growing and analyzing.

Although a doctor may recognize a herpes lesion by examining it, a viral culture will confirm the presence and type of HSV, says Ashley. Once they know whether they have HSV-1 or HSV-2, people have a better idea of how often they will have recurrences.

But viral cultures do have their drawbacks. If the lesion has started to heal (usually 48 hours after its appearance), the swab may not pick up enough virus and the culture result will be a "false negative." (False positives in cultures are rare.)

A blood (serology) test can be used to confirm a negative culture. It can also be used to diagnose herpes in a person who has no symptoms, who has genital irritation but isn't sure it's herpes, or who has a sexual partner with herpes and wants to find out if he or she has already become infected.

"Diagnosing whether someone has herpes or not is quickly done by a serology test because once you've become infected, an immune-competent [healthy] individual will develop antibodies to the herpes that is infecting them," says Thomas Simms, a biologist in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Herpes antibodies will usually show up in the blood several weeks after a person first becomes infected. Some blood tests can determine the type of herpes infection, but cannot indicate whether the herpes is oral or genital. So people without symptoms may not know for certain if their herpes is oral or genital.

There are currently two FDA-cleared blood tests that accurately determine if a person is infected with HSV-1 or HSV-2, the HerpeSelect ELISA Kits and the HerpeSelect Immunoblot Kit made by Focus Technologies of Herndon, Va.

Another blood test is the Western Blot. Although not 100 percent accurate, the Western Blot is considered the "gold standard" of blood tests and is used to determine the accuracy of other herpes blood tests that are developed. The University of Washington is the premier institution for performing and interpreting the test.

Many older FDA-cleared blood tests for herpes are still on the market, and many labs use these tests because they are widely available and inexpensive. Although they may be labeled type-specific (can determine whether the infection is HSV-1 or HSV-2), they are not reliable, says Simms.

But it's difficult for people to make sure they are getting one of the newer, accurate tests, says Wald. Doctors and even lab workers may not know what test they're using. "The patient needs to ask, but it's a very tall order. It will take a significant amount of work on their part and phone calls to the lab themselves."

This is where a herpes support group can help, says Adams, who facilitates a group called HELP of Washington. "We keep a list of doctors who are up to speed, knowledgeable, and know what the right tests are." For natural Homeopathic Relief to attack Herpes Symptoms click here

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