September 30, 2002
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.