Treatment of Herpes

Treatment of Herpes

What treatments are available to control my episodes of genital herpes?

The symptoms of herpes may cause some people significant discomfort. Although there is currently no cure for herpes, treatments are available that can reduce the severity, frequency and duration of episodes.

What are antiviral medications?

The standard, effective and specific treatment for genital herpes is antiviral medication, which is usually in tablet form. Antiviral medications help to stop the virus from multiplying on the surface of the skin, effectively reducing the length of time that the virus is on the skin during a herpes episode. The treatment only works while you are taking it and cannot prevent future outbreaks once you stop taking it.

There are currently three herpes antiviral medications available - aciclovir, famciclovir and valaciclovir.

What is episodic treatment?

Episodic treatment of genital herpes involves treating the disease when it occurs ie. managing individual episodes of recurrent genital herpes on an ad-hoc basis. Taking medication at the first signs of an episode will help to reduce the length and severity of symptoms. This type of treatment may be of benefit to some people.

What is suppressive treatment?

Suppressive (preventative) treatment involves taking medication on a daily basis to reduce the chance of a herpes outbreak. Continuous suppressive treatment is particularly useful for those who are experiencing frequent or troublesome episodes, because it significantly reduces both symptomatic and asymptomatic viral shedding and healing time. It is also useful for those concerned about passing herpes on to a new partner.

Some medical experts consider that twice-daily suppressive treatment may be appropriate for those concerned about asymptomatic shedding and potential disease transmission.

If you have a high level of herpes-related anxiety, you may find that suppressive treatment allows you to be less focused on the herpes virus. This emotional break can provide you with time to adjust to living with this infection. You may also find professional support helpful.

If you know that stress triggers a recurrence and you are experiencing significant stress, or your outbreaks tend to occur during specific situations such as a holiday, then a course of suppressive therapy may be appropriate on such occasions.

Herpes antiviral treatment and HIV

Many doctors use suppressive treatment for herpes in HIV infected people because recurrences are common and the fewer the episodes, the less stress placed on the immune system.

Lifestyle changes

Some people with herpes find that reducing stress can help minimise the number of herpes episodes.

Relieving minor episodes

The following measures may prove helpful in relieving minor herpes episodes.

If urination is painful, try passing urine in the bath.
Pour lukewarm water over the painful area when you are trying to urinate.
Try lying in a bath containing two-to-three tablespoons of salt.
Use a hairdryer set on low to carefully dry the sores after bathing.
Wear cotton underwear (or none at all) with loose clothing on top.
Try mild pain killers such as aspirin or paracetamol.

Treat HIV infection if present

In people with HIV infection, episodes of herpes can be more severe and frequent than in those with no HIV infection. Treating HIV infection may help to improve the immune system so that episodes of herpes are less frequent and severe. Also, treating herpes may cause less stress to the immune system.

Find a doctor you feel comfortable with

While some doctors have a special interest in the sexual health, others may not be familiar with, or comfortable discussing, these issues. Finding a doctor whom you can openly and comfortably discuss these issues with is important. There are doctors that specialise in this area, some are in private clinics, while others belong to sexual health services. There are also sexual health services in country areas.

All sexual health services are strictly confidential and understand the hardship you may be experiencing in getting access to treatment for herpes.

To obtain further information about genital herpes, see your doctor.

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