Genital Herpes Treatment Cuts Spread
Daily Valtrex Helps Prevent Spread of Virus to Partner
Of particular concern are women of childbearing age who can pass along the infection during pregnancy. If a child is born with herpes, "there is a risk for serious complications and even death," says Torres.
"If the woman is the positive partner, she should be on antiviral therapy for the last trimester of her pregnancy so that she reduces the risk for viral shedding during delivery. If the woman is the uninfected partner, we would advise the couple to begin suppressive therapy before considering pregnancy," said Torres.
Herpes is a disease of recurrent outbreaks and some people have flare-ups 10 or more times a year. In this study, patients averaged five recurrences a year before genital herpes treatment. After eight months of treatment, 60% of Valtrex patients had no outbreaks compared with 20% of placebo patients.
Peter Heald, MD, professor of dermatology at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn., says the results are impressive, but he questioned the safety of "a lifetime of [Valtrex] treatment." Torres says that other studies demonstrate that antiviral therapy is "safe up to 10 years."
Warren Heymann, MD, dermatologist at Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center in Camden, N.J., says, "This treatment should be considered for all affected couples of child-bearing age."
But the genital herpes treatment is not cheap: Each pill costs $2-$3. "Figure $1,000 a year for treatment," says Torres' co-researcher Mathijis Bretjens, MD, also of the University of Texas Medical Branch. "But our experience is that insurers are willing to pay for the treatment, and even if coverage is denied, patients will pay for this protection."
Torres says that other genital herpes drugs may also be effective at reducing the risk for transmission.
SOURCE: 61st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, San Francisco, March 24, 2003. Gisela Torres, MD, University of Texas Medical Branch Center for Clinical Studies. Peter Heald, MD, professor of dermatology, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Conn. Warren Heymann, MD, dermatologist, Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center, Camden, N.J. Mathijis Bretjens, MD, University of Texas Medical Branch.