Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause painful sores and blisters in the genital area. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) and is incurable, but medications can be used to control outbreaks. Daily use of antiviral medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks, and reduce the chance of infecting others. Recently, researchers have been exploring a form of gene therapy as a potential treatment for herpes.
This experimental drug consists of an injection of millions of lab-modified viruses that have been hollowed out to carry two different enzymes, small proteins that work like molecular scissors. The therapy employs three different species of these carrier viruses, known as adeno-associated viruses (AAV). Keith Jerome and Martine Aubert, the Hutch virologists who are leading the research effort, report that the treatment dramatically reduced or even eliminated viral spread in treated mice compared to controls. In a new study, they describe how they have tried therapy for the first time to treat infections in a group of nerves near the genital tract of mice.
They found that experimental therapy reduced the latent virus in that country by 97%. Researchers are conducting additional preclinical studies on therapy in guinea pigs, which naturally have recurrent outbreaks of latent herpes infections. While there is currently no vaccine available on the market, people infected with herpes can take steps to manage their outbreaks. Most people with herpes don't show symptoms, but the infection can also cause painful sores and blisters. A person can transmit herpes to their partner at any time, although they have a greater chance when they have an outbreak.
Genital herpes outbreaks tend to occur less frequently and become shorter and weaker after a few years, regardless of whether they receive treatment or not. If you don't get treatment for herpes, you may continue to have regular outbreaks or they may only happen rarely. It is important for people who are sexually active to be aware of the risks associated with herpes and take steps to protect themselves and their partners. If they experience any symptoms related to herpes, they should ask all their recent sexual partners if they have or may have oral or genital herpes. Herpes can hide in nerve cells for a long time before becoming active, making it difficult to find a cure. However, researchers are continuing to explore potential treatments and vaccines that could help manage and prevent outbreaks.
In the meantime, people with herpes should take steps to manage their outbreaks and reduce their risk of transmitting the virus.