Microbicides are one option scientists are exploring in the search for new genital herpes treatments. Microbicides are chemicals that protect against infection by killing microbes (small organisms such as bacteria and viruses) before they enter the body. Two products show some promise -- tenofovir gel and siRNA nanoparticles -- microbicides that are applied to the vagina. Studies show these may be able to kill herpes, as well as some other sexually transmitted viruses, and even reduce the spread of the herpes virus from person to person.
One in five Americans has genital herpes, but many don't know it because the symptoms can be mild or even absent. Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact and caused by the type 2 herpes virus (HSV-2). However, the type 1 herpes virus (HSV-1), which more commonly causes cold sores, can also infect the genitals -- usually through oral sex.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, you're infected for life.
Herpes is most often spread from active sores. But you don't have to have...
Scientists also are working on new drugs that keep the herpes virus from replicating. To replicate (make copies of itself), a virus has to duplicate its DNA exactly. Scientists hope these new drugs will prevent the virus from doing that.
Everyone would like a vaccine that protects against HSV-2, but experimental products have had mixed and somewhat discouraging results.
Clinical Trials: Key to Genital Herpes Research
Although these new genital herpes treatments are just on the horizon, it may be years before any are available to consumers.
The process of introducing a new treatment to the public can be a long one. Before the FDA approves a drug, it must go through rigorous clinical trials, which are divided into three phases. In phase I, researchers try to find out if the drug is safe for people to take. If the drug is deemed safe, it may go on to phase II, when researchers aim to determine if the drug works as it should. They also collect more safety data. In phase III trials, they expand their research to include more patients in more places.
To conduct a clinical trial, scientists need people to participate voluntarily. Clinical trials often involve thousands of patients who volunteer to take the experimental drug. The FDA and an independent review board carefully monitor every aspect of the trial. There are rules the researchers must follow to ensure that their work is scientifically correct and ethically sound. Study volunteers have clearly defined rights, such as the right to drop out of the trial at any time.
While there are risks involved in joining a clinical trial, there may be benefits, too. You might get a new "wonder drug" long before it hits the market. If you're interested, ask your doctor if you could benefit by joining one. Your doctor may know of a trial that is seeking volunteers in your area. The National Institutes of Health also has an online database that you can search. This web site provides detailed information on what's involved in joining a clinical trial.
SOURCES: WebMD Medical News: "A New Way to Rein in Sexually Transmitted Disease." WebMD Medical News: "New Herpes Vaccine Affects Women Only." Kleymann, G. Nature Medicine. April 8, 2002; vol 4: pp 392-398. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. National Institutes of Health.