Herpes is an infection that results from either of two types of herpes simplex virus. The symptoms may appear as oral herpes or genital herpes. Currently, there is no cure.

Most people with herpes do not show symptoms, but the infection can also cause painful ulcers and blisters. Those without symptoms can still pass the infection on to others.

Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) typically causes oral herpes, but may also cause genital herpes. People transmit HSV-1 through saliva.

Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is a more common cause of genital herpes. A person might acquire HSV-2 through sexual contact.

Infection with HSV is very common. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that roughly half a billion people are living with genital herpes globally, and several billion with an oral herpes infection.

In this article, we look at why there is no cure for herpes, the progress on developing a cure, and the current treatment options.

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A person with herpes may experience no symptoms.

There is currently no cure or preventive treatment for the herpes infection. If a person gets either form of herpes virus infection, they will have it for life, whether or not they experience symptoms.

Researchers have conducted several clinical trials investigating vaccines against herpes infection, but there is currently no commercially available vaccine.

Herpes is challenging to cure because of the nature of the virus. The HSV infection can hide away in a person’s nerve cells for months or years before reappearing and reactivating the infection.

Experts suggest that even if antiviral drugs destroy the active parts of the infection, it only takes a small amount of the virus to hide in the nerve cells and become dormant for the herpes virus to continue.

To find a treatment, scientists need to understand further the mechanism that enables the infection to hide. By preventing this mechanism, they might be able to tackle the whole infection before parts go dormant.

Some medications may reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms and lower the chances of passing the infection on to others. Current antiviral medications to treat herpes include the following medications:

  • acyclovir
  • valacyclovir
  • famciclovir
  • penciclovir

Acyclovir is typically the first form of treatment for HSV infections. A doctor may treat a skin or mucous membrane infection with oral acyclovir, provided the person has a competent immune system.

For people with severe infections or less competent immune systems, the doctor may prescribe intravenous (IV) acyclovir. Possible side effects of acyclovir may impact the central nervous system or gastrointestinal tract, which runs from the mouth to the anus.

People with high levels of stress or trauma may experience more frequent recurrences of genital herpes. In this case, a doctor may advise psychotherapy and counseling.

Some home remedies, such as petroleum gel or essential oils, may alleviate the discomfort that herpes lesions cause.

Click here to learn more about the best home remedies to treat herpes.

Prevention

A person can transmit HSV-1 when they have no symptoms. However, it is most contagious during an outbreak.

People with active symptoms must avoid oral contact with others or sharing objects that come into contact with saliva. They must also avoid performing oral sex.

Those with symptoms of genital herpes must also abstain from sexual activity to prevent the spread of the disease.

People with an HSV-2 infection can transmit genital herpes while experiencing no symptoms. HSV-2 is most contagious during an outbreak of sores.

People should abstain from sexual activity while experiencing symptoms. The correct use of condoms may help to reduce the risk of spreading genital herpes.

Pregnant women with symptoms of genital herpes should speak to a doctor, as there is a risk of neonatal herpes.

Neonatal herpes is where a mother passes the infection on to the fetus before, during, or immediately after delivery. It is rare but can have severe consequences for the infant.

The WHO recognize the need for further research into preventing and treating HSV.

Clinical trials are underway to search for an effective treatment. A new drug, called pritelivir, is currently undergoing clinical trials as a treatment for herpes symptoms. Experts believe pritelivir may be a useful alternative for people who cannot take acyclovir.

Scientists are currently studying potential vaccines and topical microbicides in their search for a cure for herpes.

The WHO suggest there are many potential candidates for a herpes vaccine. The development of vaccines for varicella-zoster virus and the human papillomavirus and progress in HSV vaccine studies suggest an HSV vaccine is feasible.

Microbicides are compounds that a person may apply to the vagina or rectum for protection against sexually transmitted illnesses. These treatments can come as a cream, gel, film, or suppository.

The HSV causes herpes and can affect the mouth or genitals. There is currently no cure for the virus, but treatments exist that can reduce the symptoms and infectiousness of the disease.

Scientists are researching vaccines or compounds that might cure herpes.