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Herpes: Treatment with Medication

Medications can’t cure herpes. But they can help you feel better, and reduce the chances of passing herpes to others. Some medications can control symptoms and shorten the duration of an outbreak (episodic therapy). Other medications can reduce the number of outbreaks (suppressive therapy). Your healthcare provider will explain your options and any possible side effects.

Young man taking pills with glass of water.

How the medications work

Medications can prevent the herpes virus from copying itself and help reduce shedding. The results vary with each person. Take each medication exactly as prescribed. Options include:

  • Primary treatment for the first outbreak. Medication may be taken for up to 14 days. If needed, it may be taken longer.

  • Episodic therapy,  for infrequent outbreaks. You take medication for 7 to 10 days each time you notice symptoms. This can reduce your symptoms and the length of the outbreak.

  • Suppressive therapy, for frequent outbreaks. This daily medication can reduce the number of outbreaks you have. In some cases, suppressive therapy prevents all outbreaks and shedding.

Types of medications

There are several types of herpes medications. Your options depend on how often you have symptoms and how severe they are.

  • Oral medications come in pill form. These medications are often used to treat genital herpes. They may be taken daily.

  • Topical medications come in ointment form. These medications can be used during outbreaks of oral herpes.

  • Intravenous (IV) medications are sometimes used to treat severe herpes in infants, the elderly, or patients with a weakened immune system.


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