Is there a cure for genital herpes?

Although there is no cure for genital herpes, patients have various treatment options.


There is currently no cure available for genital herpes. Most people with genital herpes lead normal lives and manage to control symptoms by preventing herpes outbreaks and taking medications when necessary.


What you need to know about genital herpes

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by two types of herpes simplex virus;  Type 1 (HSV-1), and type 2 (HSV-2). It is very common with an estimated 20% to 30% of people in the U.S. having HSV-2 and around 65% of people being carriers of HSV-1.

Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact (vaginal or anal sex), but in rare cases can be transmitted via oral sex. If a person carries herpes type 1 and engages in oral sex, their partner can get herpes sores on their genitals, although if HSV 1 is the cause, they will rarely recur. The virus can be transmitted via open sores, skin to skin contact, saliva, and genital secretions.

Genital herpes is more infectious when a person is experiencing an outbreak. Some people may never know they carry herpes because they never experience a herpes outbreak, while others may develop recurrent sores around the genitalia or the mouth (in the case of HSV-1). 

Is there a cure for genital herpes?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for HSV-1 or HSV-2. There are also no vaccinations avialab. Scientists are actively working on vaccines for HSV, but so far, none have been approved for market launch. 

In 2010, pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline developed a vaccine that was partially effective. Called Simplirix, it provided effective protection for 58% of patients with HSV-1, but for only 20% of HSV-2 patients. The company has since decided to stop further development of the vaccine. 

Other research teams are using gene-editing tools like CRISPR to modify the virus with a goal of eradicating it, leading to an effective cure.  Early-stage results appear to be promising.  Scientists at Cornell University for example, have used CRISPR to efficiently target and erase viruses within DNA. In theory, this technique could provide a cure for several viral diseases, including HSV.


Genital herpes treatments

Many carriers of HSV won’t notice any symptoms while others may experience recurrent outbreaks of painful sores.

When it comes to managing herpes, avoiding outbreaks is often the best approach. A strong immune system is vital to preventing herpes sores. Factors that can contribute to a weakened immune system include:


  • Stress
  • Sickness
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Preexisting medical conditions


You can boost your immune system naturally by eating a healthy and balanced diet and exercising regularly.  Avoid smoking and drinking large amounts of alcohol. 


Herpes outbreaks can come on within 4 days after infection and last up to 2 weeks. Open sores and ulcers often cause discomfort and pain. But there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable. Herpes home treatments include:


  • Over-the-counter painkillers to reduce pain
  • Compresses to ease itching
  • Topical herpes treatments to help speed up the healing process
  • Leaving open sores uncovered


Antiviral medications effectively help speed up recovery after an outbreak. Common herpes medicines include:


  • Aciclovir
  • Valacyclovir
  • Famciclovir


Patients can also suppress herpes outbreaks long-term by taking lower doses of antivirals every day.


The majority of antiviral medications are well-tolerated. Side effects you should be aware of include:


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle aches
  • Hair loss
  • Changes to vision


Taking antivirals long-term (more than 6 months) has been linked to kidney damage.  If you have impaired kidney function or are elderly, you may want to avoid long-term use of these medications.  A lower dose may be prescribed for individuals with known kidney disease.


Living with genital herpes

Symptoms and outbreaks of genital herpes are completely manageable.  Ensure that your immune system is healthy and you can usually avoid outbreaks.  The good news is that after your first outbreak, subsequent cases aren’t as severe.  It’s often the first eruption that’s the worst.


Finding out that you may have a sexually transmitted disease can be difficult. Although genital herpes is incredibly common, there’s still a huge stigma attached to the condition. It’s unlikely that the person who passed on herpes to you meant to do so. After all, HSV can have no symptoms at all for a lot of people.


Focus on the solutions.  Confide in a partner or friend and try to avoid spreading HSV.  Speak to your doctor if you’re worried you may have genital herpes and don’t know what to do next.  



  1. Wald A, Corey L. Persistence in the population: epidemiology, transmission. In: Arvin A, Campadelli-Fiume G, Mocarski E, et al., editors. Human Herpesviruses: Biology, Therapy, and Immunoprophylaxis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2007. Chapter 36. Available from:
  2. Belshe, R. B., Leone, P. A., Bernstein, D. I., Wald, A., Levin, M. J., Stapleton, J. T., … Deal, C. D. (2012). Efficacy Results of a Trial of a Herpes Simplex Vaccine. New England Journal of Medicine, 366(1), 34–43.
  3. Roehm, P. C., Shekarabi, M., Wollebo, H. S., Bellizzi, A., He, L., Salkind, J., & Khalili, K. (2016). Inhibition of HSV-1 Replication by Gene Editing Strategy. Scientific Reports, 6(1).
  4. CRISPR-Cas3 innovation holds promise for disease cures, advancing science. (2019). Retrieved from ScienceDaily website:
  5. Acyclovir (Zovirax) - Side Effects, Dosage, Interactions - Drugs. (2019, January 10). Retrieved November 1, 2019, from website:
  6. Jiang, Y. C., Feng, H., Lin, Y. C., & Guo, X. R. (2016). New strategies against drug resistance to herpes simplex virus. International journal of oral science, 8(1), 1–6.
  7. Buguliskis, J. S. (2019, August 15). A Spoonful of Charcoal Helps the Antiviral Go Down. Retrieved November 1, 2019, from GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News website:

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