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Herpes Treatment

Medicines can’t cure herpes. But they can help you feel better, and reduce the chances of passing herpes to others. Herpes medicines can control symptoms and shorten how long an outbreak lasts (episodic therapy). Some herpes medicines can reduce the number of outbreaks (suppressive therapy). Your healthcare provider will explain your options and any possible side effects.

Young man taking pills with glass of water.

How the medicines work

Antiviral medicines can prevent the herpes virus from copying itself and help reduce spreading it. Results may vary between people. But these medicines are generally helpful if given at the right times and used as directed. Take each medicine exactly as prescribed. Options include:

  • Primary treatment for the first outbreak. Medicine may be taken for up to 14 days. If needed, it may be taken longer.

  • Episodic therapy, for occasional outbreaks. You take medicine for 5 to 7 days each time you notice symptoms. This can reduce your symptoms and the length of the outbreak. It's important to start the medicine as soon as symptoms of a new outbreak appear.

  • Suppressive therapy, for frequent outbreaks. This daily medicine can reduce the number of outbreaks you have. In some cases, suppressive therapy prevents all outbreaks and greatly reduces the risk of giving the virus to others.

Types of medicines

There are several types of herpes medicines. Your options depend on how often you have symptoms and how severe they are.

  • Oral medicines come in pill form. These medicines are most commonly used to treat genital herpes.

  • Topical medicines come in ointment form. These can be used during outbreaks of oral herpes.

  • IV (intravenous) medicines. These are sometimes used to treat severe herpes in infants, older adults, or people with weak immune systems.

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