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Herpes Drug Reduces Transmission

September 30, 2002

People with genital herpes who worry about passing the virus to others should be offered a prescription drug, Valtrex, that has been shown for the first time to reduce transmission, a researcher says. Valtrex is already widely used to treat and prevent flare-ups of genital herpes. A study released Friday at the San Diego meeting of the American Society of Microbiology shows that it also cuts in half the chance that patients will infect others through sexual contact.

Dr. Lawrence Corey of the University of Washington conducted the four-year study on people with herpes simplex virus type 2, the primary cause of genital herpes, who were in monogamous relationships with uninfected partners. "It's a very important study, and it opens up the arena of treating discordant couples to prevent sexually transmitted disease," said Dr. Scott Hammer of Columbia University. "This is a nuisance disease, but it lays the groundwork for other, life-threatening diseases, such as HIV."

In the latest study, doctors tested Valtrex -- known generically as valacyclovir -- on 1,484 couples in which one partner had recurring flare-ups with type 2 herpes and the other was not infected. The volunteers were randomly given either Valtrex or a placebo, offered advice on using condoms and then followed for eight months. Two percent of those taking Valtrex passed on the virus to their partners, compared with 4 percent on the placebo. 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.

The CDC estimates that 45 million American teenagers and adults are infected with the type 2 virus. 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. The study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Valtrex.

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Excerpted from:
Associated Press
09.29.02; Daniel Q. Haney




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