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Antiviral drug, valacyclovir, reduces genital herpes transmission

An international team of researchers finds that taking a single daily dose of an approved antiviral drug known as valacyclovir can reduce the transmission of genital herpes to uninfected partners by 50 percent. The results are published in the Jan. 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The team of researchers led by Dr. Larry Corey, a member of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research, conducted a study of nearly 1,500 heterosexual monogamous couples in which one partner had genital herpes and the other did not. Infected partners who received a standard daily oral dose each day of valacyclovir were half as likely to transmit herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) than infected partners given a placebo.

University of Washington collaborators included Dr. Anna Wald, associate professor of medicine and laboratory medicine, and Dr. R. Ashley Morrow, professor of laboratory medicine.

The strategy potentially could be applied to combat the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases that are caused by viruses. "This is the first demonstration that an antiviral drug can prevent a viral sexually transmitted disease," said Corey, also a professor of laboratory medicine at UW and head of Fred Hutchinson's Fred Hutchinson's infectious diseases program. "The study provides the conceptual framework to extend other viral sexually transmitted diseases, such has HIV infection."

Genital herpes is caused by HSV-2 and infects about 50 million Americans over age 20. The virus is transmitted through sexual contact and is often silent, which contributes to the spread of disease. Those who do develop symptoms experience genital ulcers that are often painful. Infected individuals can transmit the virus even when they are not aware that they are infected or when no symptoms are present, and the infection can remain in the body indefinitely. Almost 80 percent of persons with HSV-2 are not diagnosed because accurate blood tests to detect antibodies signify
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Contact: Susan Edmonds
sedmonds@fhcrc.org
206-667-2896
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
31-Dec-2003


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