Medications can help control genital herpes symptoms and prevent some future outbreaks. Medication to control symptoms once they occur is called
therapy. Medication to prevent future outbreaks is called
Herpes is still contagious even when suppressive medication is being taken. The virus can still be passed to others. Suppressive therapy may reduce your risk of infecting others, but it will not eliminate this risk entirely.
When you begin to experience early symptoms of a genital herpes outbreak, you can take medication to control the severity and the duration of the symptoms. You take the medication only when you are experiencing the symptoms. The disadvantage of episodic therapy is that it may not reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes to your partner. This is because some outbreaks may not trigger symptoms.
Suppressive therapy is used to prevent future outbreaks of genital herpes. This involves taking the medication every day to help suppress or prevent the outbreaks before they occur. You may want to take suppressive therapy if you tend to frequently have outbreaks. It can also be used for a sexual partner who has never had herpes and you are trying to reduce the risk of transmission to them. Keep in mind this only reduces the risk, it does not eliminate it.
Antiviral medications are commonly prescribed to treat genital herpes. Examples of these medications include: Acyclovir—may be given through an IV for severe infections. The medication is also available as a pill or a cream, but pills appear to be more effective than the cream.Oral famciclovirOral valacyclovir
Possible side effects include: HeadacheLightheadednessNausea, vomitingDiarrheaSkin irritation—acyclovirFeeling tired or weak—famciclovirStomach pain—famciclovir and valacyclovir
If you are pregnant or nursing, or have another condition such as
infection, talk to your doctor because your treatment regimen may be different.
Pain relievers can help ease your symptoms until the antiviral medication takes effect.
2015 Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm. Updated March 9, 2016. Accessed June 6, 2016.
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Beauman JG. Genital herpes: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(8):1527-1534.
Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet (detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm. Updated November 17, 2015. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Martens MG, Fife KH, Leone PA, Dix LP, Brennan CA. Once daily valacyclovir for reducing viral shedding in subjects newly diagnosed
with genital herpes.
Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol.
Last reviewed June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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