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Medications for Genital Herpes

Medications can help control genital herpes symptoms and prevent some future outbreaks. Medication to control symptoms once they occur is called episodic therapy. Medication to prevent future outbreaks is called suppressive therapy.

Herpes is still contagious when 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.

Episodic Therapy

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 to make you more comfortable. 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

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.

Antiviral Medications for Episodic and Suppressive Therapy

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.
  • Oral famciclovir
  • Oral valacyclovir

Possible side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation—acyclovir
  • Feeling tired or weak—famciclovir
  • Stomach pain—famciclovir and valacyclovir

If you are pregnant or nursing, or have another condition such as HIV infection, talk to your doctor because your treatment regimen may be different.

Pain Management

Pain relievers can help ease symptoms before antiviral medications take effect.

Revision Information

  • Acyclovir (Systemic). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2014.

  • Aoki FY, Tyring S, et al. Single-day, patient-initiated famciclovir therapy for recurrent genital herpes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis. 2006;42(1):8-13.

  • Beauman JG. Genital herpes: A review. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(8):1527-1534.

  • Famciclovir. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2014.

  • Genital herpes—CDC fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated February 13, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2014.

  • Herpes genitalis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated September 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2014.

  • Martens MG, Fife KH, et al. Once daily valacyclovir for reducing viral shedding in subjects newly diagnosed with genital herpes. Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol. 2009;2009:105376.

  • Valacyclovir. Available at: Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed October 16, 2014.

  • Workowski KA, Berman S, et al. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.