Is There A Cure For Herpes?

Herpes Simplex Virus
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

Question: Is There A Cure For Herpes?

Answer: Right now genital herpes and oral herpes are only treatable, not curable. But a July 2008 letter to the editor that appeared in Nature suggested that that may not always be the case and that one day there may be a herpes cure.

One of the reasons that herpes infections are difficult to treat effectively is that the virus hides in the cells of the nervous system between outbreaks.

During these times, the infection is considered to be latent, and the virus becomes effectively invisible to drugs and the immune system. During active infections, some of the hidden virus "wakes up" to do its dirty work. However, while any virus remains hidden it's impossible for treatment to lead to a full cure for herpes.

In 2008, researchers from Duke University believed that they found the part of the viral genome that codes for the proteins that allow the oral herpes virus to hide out during latent periods. The scientists thought that they might be able to develop a drug that turns off these viral brakes. That would have allowed the virus to come out of dormancy once and for all so that it could be thoroughly eradicated by antiviral treatment with a drug such as acyclovir. At the time I suspected that most people with herpes would be thrilled with the possibility of a cure for herpes, even if they had to risk a massive outbreak in between receiving the drug to activate the virus and the therapy to cure it.

Seven years later, however, progress on such a drug is not looking good. Although the Duke researchers have been able to identify other factors that are related to latency, they're still a long way from moving their research into humans. That said, other researchers are also exploring methods to improve herpes outcomes through changing the process of latency.

Not all of them are aiming towards a cure. Some are, instead, looking for a way to keep the virus latent permanently. That's something that could in theory both eliminate outbreaks and vastly reduce the risk of transmission.

Still, even if a cure isn't on the immediate horizon, latency research should give people living with herpes something many of them have been waiting for for years... hope. For many people, the possibility that one day there might be a permanent cure, instead of just a suppressive treatment, for their herpes infection probably feels like seeing a gorgeous wrapped present under the tree and knowing that they'll be able to open it on Christmas morning. It might take 20 years or more before a drug is developed for human treatment, but it's still a wonderful thing to look forward to. That's why so many people with herpes are willing to volunteer for research on treatments and cures. 

In the meantime, it's important to be skeptical about any company that promises you a herpes cure. Most of the products they are offering are nothing more than sham cures. Unfortunately, when someone has been newly diagnosed with herpes, it's easy to be taken in by these scam products. There are a number of reasons why they might appear to work when they really don't.

If there really were a cure for herpes, you wouldn't find it somewhere in the backwaters of the Internet. The news would be hitting the front page of every health resource in the country.

Next: Learn how suppressive therapy can reduce the likelihood that you'll transmit herpes to your sexual partners...


Aubert M, Boyle NM, Stone D, Stensland L, Huang ML, Magaret AS, Galetto R, Rawlings DJ, Scharenberg AM, Jerome KR. In vitro Inactivation of Latent HSV byTargeted Mutagenesis Using an HSV-specific Homing Endonuclease. Mol Ther Nucleic Acids. 2014 Feb 4;3:e146. doi: 10.1038/mtna.2013.75.

E.J. Mundell. "New Hope Against the Cold Sore Virus" Washington Post Wednesday, July 2, 2008.

Oseso L, Magaret AS, Jerome KR, Fox J, Wald A. Attitudes and Willingness to Assume Risk of Experimental Therapy to Eradicate Genital Herpes Simplex Virus Infection. Sex Transm Dis. 2016 Sep;43(9):566-71. doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000493.

Pan D, Flores O, Umbach JL, Pesola JM, Bentley P, Rosato PC, Leib DA, Cullen BR, Coen DM. A neuron-specific host microRNA targets herpes simplex virus-1 ICP0 expression and promotes latency. Cell Host Microbe. 2014 Apr 9;15(4):446-56. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2014.03.004.

Thompson RL, Sawtell NM. Therapeutic implications of new insights into the critical role of VP16 in initiating the earliest stages of HSV reactivation from latency. Future Med Chem. 2010 Jul;2(7):1099-105. doi: 10.4155/fmc.10.197.

Umbach et al. "MicroRNAs expressed by herpes simplex virus 1 during latent infection regulate viral mRNAs" Nature 2008 Aug 7;454(7205):780-3. doi: 10.1038/nature07103.

Wang J, Quake SR. RNA-guided endonuclease provides a therapeutic strategy to cure latent herpesviridae infection. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Sep 9;111(36):13157-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1410785111.

Continue Reading