Valacyclovir is an antiviral medication that is used to treat a variety of herpes viruses including oral herpes and genital herpes.
People who experience signs of genital herpes more often can use valacyclovir on a daily basis to contain outbreaks. But what exactly is valacyclovir? How effective is it and can you drink alcohol while on the medication?
What is Valacyclovir?
Valacyclovir (also known by the brand name Valtrex) has been available since 1995 and is commonly used to treat herpes simplex (oral and genital), herpes zoster (shingles) and chickenpox in children.
Valacyclovir does not cure or prevent herpes simplex type 1 (HSV 1) or type 2 (HSV 2), but it does effectively contain and prevent outbreaks. It’s often used as a first response to emerging symptoms. But people who suffer frequent herpes outbreaks can benefit from taking a lower dose of valacyclovir long-term.
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The drug works by slowing the rate of reproduction of the virus and thereby preventing the spreading of herpes. This allows the body to heal faster. Valacyclovir is taken orally and converts to acyclovir once inside the body. Drugs that convert after being swallowed are called prodrugs. The benefit of prodrugs is that more of the active ingredient survives filtering by the liver. Studies have shown that valacyclovir has a 55% higher bioavailability than acyclovir.
Research also found that people with HSV 2 (which causes genital herpes) were 50% less likely to transfer the virus to sexual partners compared to people who didn’t take the drug.
Valacyclovir usually works immediately when taken during an outbreak and you should see some relief within 48 to 72 hours. It’s best to take the medicine as soon as you notice any signs of herpes for quicker action.
How to take valacyclovir?
Valacyclovir is a generic drug which means it is available under various brand names including Valtrex and Zelitrex.
For mouth sores (HSV 1), adults should take one dose of 2,000 mg of valacyclovir followed by another dose of 2,000 mg after 12 hours.
For genital herpes, adults are recommended to take 1,000 mg of valacyclovir 2 times a day for 10 to 14 days. The duration may vary depending on your healthcare provider’s advice.
If you suffer from recurring genital herpes, the medicine can be taken twice daily at a lower dose of 500 mg.
Potential side effects of valacyclovir include:
- Abdominal pain
Always follow your doctor’s advice when taking prescription medication.
Can I drink alcohol whilst taking valacyclovir?
As with most prescription drugs, you must take special precautions when taking valacyclovir.
Drinking small amounts of alcohol whilst taking the drug may be ok, but it has side effects that could be made much worse.
Valacyclovir can cause nausea and vomiting and alcohol may aggravate these side effects. So you may end up feeling even more nauseous if you combine the two substances.
Other side effects such as drowsiness and dizziness could also become heightened.
What’s more, alcohol suppresses the immune system which can slow down the recovery process. Your body will basically heal faster if you do not drink alcohol whilst taking prescription medications.
Scientists have found that high levels of stress are coupled with recurring herpes outbreaks. Many people also drink more when they are severely stressed which further affects the body’s ability to heal.
Is it safe to drink alcohol whilst taking valacyclovir?
There are currently no clinical studies that have assessed whether taking antivirals and alcohol are safe taken together. Therefore, it’s best to avoid alcohol whilst you’re on valacyclovir.
Drinking whilst on valacyclovir could make side effects of the medicine worse and it may also weaken the effect of the drug.
If you’re not sure, speak to a doctor.
- Uptodate.com. (2019). UpToDate. [online] Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/valacyclovir-an-overview.
- Alrabialt, F.A. and Sacks, S.L. (1996). New Antiherpesvirus Agents. Drugs, 52(1), pp.17–32.
- Bonnar P. E. (2009). Suppressive valacyclovir therapy to reduce genital herpes transmission: good public health policy?. McGill journal of medicine : MJM : an international forum for the advancement of medical sciences by students, 12(1), 39–46.
- Cohen, F., Kemeny, M.E., Kearney, K.A., Zegans, L.S., Neuhaus, J.M. and Conant, M.A. (1999). Persistent Stress as a Predictor of Genital Herpes Recurrence. Archives of Internal Medicine, 159(20), p.2430.