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What are the Different Types of Herpes Treatments?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The different types of herpes treatments may help shorten periods of active infection and could be used to promote some pain relief during an infection. Some of these medications may also be used on a longer-term basis to prevent recurrent infections, and reduce the degree to which a person is contagious. Alternately, use may be only during an active infection. It’s also important to note that many people do not treat herpes, and simply make it through outbreaks as they occur.

The group of drugs treating oral and genital herpes outbreaks is called antivirals. Some of the most common of these are acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir (Zovirax®, Famvir®, and Valtrex®, respectively). These types of herpes treatments all come in oral forms, and some of them are also manufactured in ointment or lotion forms.

Both the oral and the ointment types of the medication could be used to treat an active infection. The lotion or ointments may have properties that help reduce infection and shorten its total duration at the skin level, which can, in turn, promote greater comfort. At the systemic level, antivirals help fight the virus too, usually translating to fewer days of illness expression.

Some only receive these herpes treatments when they have active infections or are first diagnosed with the condition. If they have very frequent outbreaks, doctors may recommend daily intake of an antiviral. This treatment could last for a year or more and has several benefits. First, it does tend to reduce virus shedding when a person doesn’t have an active infection. Some people who have herpes are still contagious even when they aren’t having an outbreak. Second, an antiviral medication can help suppress outbreaks, and generally leads to a lower number of infections.

Herpes treatments with antivirals are not generally recommended for very long term use. As the herpes virus settles in the system, outbreaks occur with less frequency. There aren’t clear guidelines on the benefits of long-term daily use of antivirals, but in some cases, people who have chronic outbreaks that occur with great frequency continue to use antiviral drugs for many years. Others will use them for a half-year to a year or more and then discontinue when the number of outbreaks has been minimized.

When people have had herpes for many years, herpes treatments could be nothing or very minimal. People might use a little bit of pain relieving-cream on a herpes cold sore or take an over the counter pain reliever to address discomfort with a genital herpes outbreak, but treatment could be minimal. It may not be required very often, since outbreaks tend to happen less frequently. Many antiviral medications direct a great deal of marketing toward people who have had herpes for many years. It's unclear how beneficial the treatment would be since they may not actually be as contagious or have as many outbreaks as a person who has recently contracted herpes.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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