A new study led by University of California San Francisco researchers has found that acyclovir, a common anti-viral drug used to treat and prevent genital herpes, can also prevent the recurrence of herpes disease of the eye. The study marks the first time a treatment has been proven effective in preventing recurrence of the eye disease.
The study, published in the July 30 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that acyclovir is particularly effective in preventing recurrences of a serious strain of the eye disease, called stromal keratitis, which can lead to scarring of the cornea with vision loss and blindness.
The study found that the rate of recurrence of this blinding form of the disease dropped 50 percent when patients took 400 milligrams of acyclovir by mouth twice a day, said Chandler R. Dawson, MD, UCSF professor emeritus of ophthalmology and former director of UCSF's Francis I. Proctor Foundation for Research in Ophthalmology, who led the study.
The findings, Dawson said, are the key to preventing recurrences of a particularly harmful form of the disease that affects thousands of Americans each year. About 400,000 Americans have had some form of ocular herpes and some have recurrent eye infections. About 25 percent of the 50,000 Americans who experience some form of eye herpes each year have stromal keratitis.
The study's key finding, Dawson said, is that it identifies those patients with potentially blinding herpetic stromal keratitis who will benefit most from long-term acyclovir treatment. Most opthalmologists can diagnose this blinding disease by a simple clinical examination and treat these high risk patients with long-term preventive dose of acyclovir, Dawson said.
The results of the study are particularly promising because this dose of acyclovir has very few side effects, meaning patients can safely use the drug for prevention, Dawson said.