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There is no cure for genital herpes, but you can control the symptoms and prevent some future outbreaks. Using medications to control symptoms once they occur is called outbreak or episodic therapy. Using medication to prevent future outbreaks is called suppressive therapy.

Keep in mind that even when you are taking medication for an outbreak, you are still contagious. You can still infect your partner or your baby. Suppressive therapy may reduce your risk of infecting others, but it will not eliminate this risk entirely.

When you begin to experience early symptoms of a genital herpes outbreak, you can take medication to control the severity and the duration of the symptoms. You take the medication only when you are experiencing the symptoms to make you more comfortable. The disadvantage of episodic therapy is that it may not reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes to your partner. This is because some outbreaks may not trigger symptoms.

Suppressive therapy is used to prevent future outbreaks of genital herpes. This involves taking the medication every day to help suppress or prevent the outbreaks before they occur. You may want to take suppressive therapy if you tend to frequently have outbreaks.

Antiviral medications are commonly prescribed to treat genital herpes. Examples of these medications include:

  • Acyclovir (Zovirax)—If you have a severe form of genital herpes or complications, your doctor may give you acyclovir intravenously (through a needle that goes into your arm). The medication is also available as a pill or a cream. Pills seem to be more effective, though.
  • Famciclovir (Famvir)—available as a pill.
  • Valacyclovir (Valtrex)—available as a pill

Possible side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin irritation (acyclovir)
  • Feeling tired or weak (famciclovir)
  • Stomach pain (famciclovir and valacyclovir)

If you are pregnant or nursing or have another condition such as HIV, talk to your doctor because your treatment regimen may be different.


Acyclovir (Systemic). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Aoki FY, Tyring S, Diaz-Mitoma F, Gross G, Gao J, Hamed K. Single-day, patient-initiated famciclovir therapy for recurrent genital herpes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Infect Dis. 2006;42(1):8-13.

Famciclovir. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Genital herpes fact sheet. US Department of Health and Human Services Womens Health website. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/genital-herpes.cfm. Updated August 10, 2009. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Genital herpes treatment. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/genitalHerpes/understanding/Pages/treatment.aspx. Updated January 26, 2011. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Herpes genitalis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated May 2, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Martens MG, Fife KH, Leone PA, Dix LP, Brennan CA. Once daily valacyclovir for reducing viral shedding in subjects newly diagnosed with genital herpes. Infect Dis Obstet Gynecol. 2009;2009:105376.

Valacyclovir. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated January 18, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2013.

Workowski KA, Berman S, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, 2010. MMWR. 2010;59(No. RR-12):1-110.

Last reviewed May 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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