Herpes: Treatment with Medicine

Medicines can’t cure herpes. But they can help you feel better, and reduce the chances of passing herpes to others. Some medicines can control symptoms and shorten the duration of an outbreak (episodic therapy). Others 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 medicines work

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

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

  • Episodic therapy, for infrequent outbreaks. You take medicine for 7 to 10 days each time you notice symptoms. This can reduce your symptoms and the length of the outbreak. It is important to start the medicine as soon as symptoms of a new outbreak appear.

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

Types of medicines

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

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

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

  • Intravenous (IV) medicines are sometimes used to treat severe herpes in infants, the elderly, or people with weak immune systems.