Herpes 1 + 2 guide

Herpes treatment

Is there a cure or treatment for herpes?

Yes. Once you've been tested and diagnosed with oral or genital herpes, it can be treated...but not cured.

Remember, herpes is not life-threatening in adults...and depending on the severity of herpes outbreaks, no treatment may be necessary. Oral antiviral medications – most commonly, acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir) and valacyclovir (Valtrex) – are safe and effective, and can prevent or shorten the duration of outbreaks, reduce the frequency and severity of recurrent outbreaks, and decrease the risk of spreading the infection to others.

Herpes can recur

Even if you're being treated for herpes, outbreaks may continue...the frequency of recurring outbreaks depends on the duration and severity of the first herpes episode. An initial infection that lasts five weeks or more correlates with almost twice the number of recurrences, compared to an initial infection that doesn't last as long.

Additionally, there's a 60% likelihood of recurring outbreaks with HSV-2, compared to a 14% likelihood of recurrences with HSV-1. The good news is that people with recurrent outbreaks usually have milder symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Be sure to continue to use latex condoms or a dental dam to minimize the risk of spreading herpes to your sexual partner, even if you don't notice any outbreak symptoms...this is especially important if you are pregnant.

Episodic vs. suppressive therapy

With episodic therapy, you only take the prescribed medication when you're experiencing herpes symptoms; however, to minimize the aggravation of symptomatic herpes (more than five outbreaks per year), daily suppressive therapy may be your best option...this also reduces the risk of transmitting herpes to an uninfected partner. We're happy to help you determine the best treatment for you, including FDA-approved use of Valtrex to treat recurrent genital herpes.

Note: The Clinic does not provide medical consultation for HSV-1 positive test results because this type of herpes is usually a benign infection that is most often asymptomatic, or only results in cold sores on the lip. Please see your regular doctor for HSV-1 oral or topical treatment options.

Pregnancy and treatment

Ideally, to protect the health of your baby, avoid genital exposure to HSV-1 or HSV-2 during pregnancy.

In general, herpes can also be treated during pregnancy with prescription medication. Consult your regular doctor about the risks involved, and to identify a treatment that's best for you and your baby.

Last reviewed by Lisa Oldson, MD, January 2011.

Lisa Oldson, MD

STD expert

"The first thing I tell a patient about STDs is that if you're worried about one STD, you should probably worry about all STDs. In other words, if you had unprotected sex and you're worried about a possible HIV exposure, it's important to understand that hepatitis can be spread in the same fashion...ditto for chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes and syphilis."