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Genital herpes treatments

Treatment for genital herpes depends on whether there is an outbreak for the first time (primary infection), or a recurrent outbreak.

Treatment may also be used for episodic attacks and suppressive treatment may be given to help prevent or shorten outbreaks.

Primary infection

If you have symptoms such as sores when you are first diagnosed with genital herpes, a doctor or sexual health clinic may recommend a course of  aciclovir antiviral therapy.

Aciclovir helps prevent the herpes virus from multiplying while it is being taken, but no treatment can completely cure genital herpes.

Aciclovir side effects include sickness and headaches. Alternative genital herpes antiviral medication includes famciclovir and valaciclovir.

Recurrent outbreaks

For mild symptoms in a recurring genital herpes outbreak, a doctor or sexual health clinic may recommend some steps to ease the discomfort. These may include:

  • Avoid blisters becoming infected and promote healing using water or salt water to keep the areas clean.
  • Consider using an ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the sores to ease pain and promote healing.
  • Use petroleum jelly or anaesthetic cream on blisters to help reduce pain, especially when urinating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, as the more diluted the urine is, the less painful it will be.
  • Don't wear tight clothes or underwear that may irritate the outbreak.
  • For severe outbreaks, a course of antiviral tablets may be recommended.

Episodic treatment

Episodic treatment with courses of aciclovir may be recommended when fewer than six recurrent outbreaks of genital herpes are experienced in a year. The treatment should begin when the tingling sensations are felt which can appear before an outbreak is noticed.

Suppressive treatment.

When a person has 6 or more genital herpes outbreaks in a year, or for severe or distressing symptoms, long-term aciclovir treatment over 12 months may be recommended in what's called suppressive treatment.

Suppressive treatment reduces the risk of passing on genital herpes to a partner, but doesn't remove the risk, so safe sex is still important.
Suppressive treatment will usually be stopped or reviewed after a year.

If the treatment is not effective, referral to a specialist may be recommended.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on January 10, 2018

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