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Is There A Cure For Herpes?

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Updated March 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Is There A Cure For Herpes?

Answer: Right now genital herpes and oral herpes are only treatable, not curable. But a July 2008 letter to the editor that appeared in Nature suggested that that may not always be the case and that one day there may be a herpes cure.

One of the reasons that herpes infections are difficult to treat effectively is that the virus hides in the cells of the nervous system between outbreaks. During these times, when the infection is latent, the virus becomes effectively invisible to drugs and the immune system. During active infections, some of the hidden virus "wakes up" to do its dirty work, but while any virus remains hidden it's impossible for treatment to lead to a full cure for herpes.

Researchers from Duke University appear to have found the part of the viral genome that codes for the proteins that allow the oral herpes virus to hide out during latent periods. The scientists think that they may be able to develop a drug that turns off these viral brakes, and allows the virus to come out of dormancy once and for all so that it can be thoroughly eradicated by antiviral treatment with a drug such as acyclovir. I suspect that most people with herpes would be thrilled with the possibility of a cure for herpes, even if they had to risk a massive outbreak in between receiving the drug to activate the virus and the therapy to cure it.

It will probably be quite a few years before a herpes cure based on this research is available for humans, even if the first round of animal trials are successful. Still, this news provides something that will help see people infected with the herpes virus through quite a bit of waiting... hope. For many people, the possibility that one day there might be a permanent cure, instead of just a suppressive treatment, for their herpes infection will probably feel like seeing a gorgeous wrapped present under the tree and knowing that they'll be able to open it on Christmas morning. It might take 20 years or more before a drug is developed for human treatment, but it's still a wonderful thing to look forward to.

In the meantime, it's important to be skeptical about any company that promises you a herpes cure today. Most of the products they are offering are nothing more than sham cures. Unfortunately, when someone has been newly diagnosed with herpes, it's easy to be taken in by these scam products, since there are a number of reasons why they might appear to work when they really don't. If there really were a cure for herpes, you wouldn't find it somewhere in the backwaters of the Internet. The news would be hitting the front page of every health resource in the country.

Next: Learn how suppressive therapy can reduce the likelihood that you'll transmit herpes to your sexual partners...

Sources:
Umbach et al. "MicroRNAs expressed by herpes simplex virus 1 during latent infection regulate viral mRNAs" Nature 2008 Jul 2. [Epub ahead of print]
E.J. Mundell. "New Hope Against the Cold Sore Virus" Washington Post Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

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