Drug shown to help prevent transmission of herpes virus

Sunday, September 29, 2002

SAN DIEGO -- People with genital herpes who worry about passing the virus to others should be offered a prescription drug that has been shown for the first time to reduce transmission, a researcher says.

The drug, called Valtrex, is already widely used to treat and prevent flare-ups of genital herpes. A study released Friday shows that it also cuts in half the chance that people will infect others through sexual contact.

Dr. Lawrence Corey of the University of Washington directed the four-year study conducted on people with herpes simplex virus type 2, the primary cause of genital herpes, who were in monogamous relationships with uninfected partners.

Health experts said the study is especially noteworthy because it suggests that other, more serious sexually transmitted ills may also be controlled by treating the carrier.

The treatment nearly eliminated herpes symptoms in the partners, even if they caught the virus. Just half of 1 percent of those whose infected partners took Valtrex got herpes sores, compared with 2 percent in the comparison group.

"This is the first drug shown to interrupt the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease," Corey said.

Doctors presume that AIDS drugs also slow the transmission of HIV, although this has not been proven.

A study intended to show this is in the planning stages.

Valtrex, which has a wholesale price of about $3 a day for the dose used in the study, is a modified version of acyclovir, the first herpes drug. Another herpes drug, Novartis's Famvir, has not been tested for preventing transmission.

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