We are getting a lot of calls about herpes medication and the COVID vaccines.
Short answer: go ahead and get whichever jab you are offered
Longer answer… The developer of aciclovir was seeking a medication that would target flu and cold viruses. They found an antiviral based on Caribbean sea sponges. This new compound didn’t work on flu or cold virus. It was found to only work on three herpes viruses: herpes simplex (types 1 and 2) and varicella-zoster virus (which causes chickenpox virus and shingles).
Since aciclovir and the later drugs valaciclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir) only target these herpes viruses, it is OK to have the herpes medication and COVID vaccines at the same time. You don’t need to tell the people at the vaccine centre that you are taking antivirals.
Since these drugs only target the three herpes viruses and don’t affect human cells you don’t need to mention antiviral drugs at all. They are very safe drugs. They don’t interact with any other drugs,
It is perfectly safe. We recommend that people with herpes have the COVID vaccine – or any vaccines offered. Do the best for yourself, get yourself protected against COVID: a serious, life-threatening virus. The vaccines approved for use in UK do not contain egg or any other animal products. Like the antiviral drugs for herpes, all the vaccines are safe for any religious group.
“Having had herpes is not a contraindication for COVID vaccination. As most of the population have been infected with herpes type one or type 2 if there were any complication, we would have seen it by now. There is no scientific basis for thinking there would be any problem. Indeed, I had my first Covid jab yesterday. My past history of oral herpes type one (‘cold sores’) did not concern me.” Professor Colm O’Mahony MD. FRCP. BSc. DipVen.
Because ‘everyone’ has herpes they can have the COVID vaccine.
Well over half the adult population has herpes simplex, though most don’t know it. The NHS wants everyone, regardless of whether or not they get cold sores on face, fingers or genitals to be vaccinated. Take advantage of these medical breakthroughs. They have been subjected to meticulously conducted clinical trials. Such clinical trials are essential to test the safety and effectiveness of experimental treatments and vaccines. (I’ve just received either a vaccine or a salt water injection. I’m taking part in a trial for Novovax.)
After a promising therapy is developed in a lab, it goes through three separate studies to ensure that it won’t cause any serious harm and will be of real medical benefit. Only if it passes all three stages is any new therapy evaluated by a group of independent experts. They assess if it’s safe and effective and can receive a licence for use in the general public. The Novovax vaccine is now on the verge of such approval.
Marian is taking part in a COVID vaccine trial
By the time I joined the trial, the study was already in its final ‘phase 3’ research involving over 15,203 volunteers recruited in record time. The participants were divided at random into two equal groups. Researchers made sure the composition of the groups was comparable in terms of age, gender, race and underlying health conditions. One group received the experimental vaccine and the other a placebo. (A dummy therapy, in this case salt water). Rates of side effects and COVID were then compared between the two groups. At the outset, the researchers set strict criteria to ensure that the new treatment really if safe and works. This is so that they couldn’t be accused of moving the goal posts if their study flings up some unexpected or unwelcome findings.
Maria (not our director Marian) sends us “My experience with HSV1” in the hopes it will help people:
I was diagnosed with herpes simplex type 1 on my vulva in early 2012 when I was 23 years old. I had an inflamed lump ‘down below’ and I went to see my local nurse who in turn referred me to a sexual health clinic in London. They reassured me that it did not ‘look like herpes’ and they swabbed the affected area. Ten days later I got a call to say that I had tested positive for herpes simplex type 1.
I immediately thought my life was over despite the girl on the phone being very reassuring telling me that it was “just the cold sore virus.” She sensed my apprehension and invited me in for a chat. Of course, in my frantic state I searched the internet looking for something that could give me more reassurance. There was little to be found other than how to “disclose” to a partner.
To this day the word disclose really irritates me. Nobody “discloses” cold sores when they are on the face. I actually ended up in my situation because of a harmless cold sore.
I met someone
When I met my now fiancé, I casually asked him did he get cold sores on his face. I felt relieved when he said he did from time to time. I was a year going out with him before I told him where exactly my cold sore had been. Why? Because medically he didn’t need to know and quite frankly, it was not his or anyone’s business where on my body I had hsv1. When I did tell him its location, he honestly didn’t bat an eyelid.
To confirm this approach was okay I spoke to an infectious disease consultant who said it was perfectly acceptable to tell a partner you have the cold sore virus in your system. There is no need to go into specifics. [Editor: there is no requirement to talk about any STI or HIV, unless the other person asks you about these. It is not a legal requirement to offer the information.] I have never had another outbreak apart from my initial one. And that really was only minor.
This is something I feel very strongly about. It breaks my heart that I spent so much time feeling guilty and ashamed just because by the grace of God this virus happened to be on my vulva instead of my lips. I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was experience having oral sex and there aren’t too many people out there who haven’t done that. According to WHO “In 2016, an estimated 3.7 billion peopled under the age of 50, or 67% of the population, had HSV-1 infection (oral or genital).”
There are more people with this virus than without. I am sick of sensationalism in the news. It’s not fair on people and it needs to stop. It is time for people to get the facts. This should not be a burden when in fact it’s a part of life that happens to most of us whether we know about it or not. As a society we have broken stigmas in the past. It can be done again.
Editor adds: Maria’s experience of HSV1 is common. You could say that type 1 doesn’t “like” the genital region, because it rarely recurs there. You can see transmission details for oral sex here.
Our patron, Professor Simon Barton, was asked to do a short talk telling doctors about genital herpes, for a conference in Bucharest. Or really, he was asked to record a short video for the IUSTI virtual conference (about 700 delegates in 46 countries). He invited Marian Nicholson, our director, and Ceri Evans, the senior health adviser from Hammersmith, to join him for this ‘lecture’. He took as the topic: how we support patients in UK.
Don’t beat yourself up for having caught genital herpes.
I was talking to a woman on the helpline. She said felt guilty for having herpes. She told me that she was metaphorically beating herself up for catching it. At a young age – and via sex she didn’t want anyway – she found she had caught this. (In fact, she was 19 – young for some, not for others.) She said that she had had more relationships, but they never lasted long, although the men concerned reassured her that it was not to do with her herpes. Now she felt that having genital herpes was a punishment… She added that she was depressed as well.
This is what I told her, during the course of the conversation:
By the age of 15 one third of humans have at least one herpes simplex virus – having it ‘young’ is quite normal. Obviously, at this age most of these cases will be facial cold sores and perhaps surprisingly only 1 in three people are even aware they have it. (Two out of three have such mild symptoms, that they are not diagnosed.)
According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, some people think they started having sex too soon – although 60% of women and 75% of men think the time was about right. Some people catch herpes from their first sexual partner, regardless of whether this was ‘too soon’ or not. That’s life, that’s chance. You don’t need to feel guilty for having herpes. Depending on the number of partners, it is something that may happen when people are quite young. All it takes is one experience of skin-to-skin contact (with the affected part with friction) to contract the infection, and having it does not reflect negatively upon personal cleanliness or morality.
It is unfortunate to catch herpes from your first partner, but not that uncommon. And you are unlikely to stay with your first partner… Many people have been unlucky in love. It is a charming fault to fall for people too easily. Of course, the subsequent break-up is painful – you can get your heart broken. But this is much better than being a hard-hearted. You never know if you will be able to swim if you never jump in the pool.
Having herpes is nobody’s fault. Don’t feel guilty about having herpes. If you have it genitally it means you’ve had some sort of sex. But that is expected of people over the age of consent.
Herpes does not cause depression
Depression is difficult. It’s nobody’s fault. It does not respect status or situation. And herpes simplex virus does not cause depression. It is what you think about the virus that can affect your mood. If you are really depressed don’t be afraid to seek help. It can be treated. With support and the right treatment you can feel normal again. My best friend is – at last – taking sertraline and she says “It’s great to wake up every morning, and not feel like doom is about to happen.” Our worst fears are seldom realised, but knowing that may not help when the ‘black dog’ affects you.
Lastly, don’t be judgmental. Never be hard on yourself for things that you’d forgive your friends for. Ask yourself for all the issues that you are beating yourself up over: “Would I blame a friend?!”
It is just bad luck if we catch it. No one deserves bad luck. Bad luck is not a punishment for anything. It happens. Children get leukaemia. Wonderful people are killed in car smashes. Super people catch a virus and there are far more devastating viruses than herpes. The HVA can help with your herpes concerns. Then you will be able to move on.
Helpline callers often ask whether any food or vitamin can help improve resistance to herpes simplex and prevent symptoms. Despite many claims, no ‘magic’ food or vitamin is guaranteed to do this.
Now people are asking what they should eat to make sure they don’t catch Covid-19. Or if they do catch it, how they can have a milder case. Medical experts (Covid Symptoms Study) are giving the same response as us: there is no single answer.
As you will have seen in the news, people with serious underlying health conditions are most at risk of having a bad case of Covid-19. It is difficult, if not impossible to make a long-term health problem disappear, so what can be done?
As you may know, people with serious underlying health conditions are more at risk from Covid-19. What can be done?
Medical reports suggest that people with low vitamin D levels may be harder hit with Covid-19, although experts are not agreed on how much it matters and why.
We have previously written about “Vitamin D for herpes” in SPHERE 34-1. Vitamin D can be a useful supplement for immune function and to reduce outbreaks.
Dark skin? Over 65? Vitamin D is the supplement for you
You get it naturally by sitting in the sun, (but not overdoing it). For people with light skins this means around 20 minutes’ exposure between 10 am and 3 pm in the summer months. At other times of the year the sun isn’t strong enough to help much. Darker skinned people will need greater sun exposure to benefit.
The NHS has long been advising that, amongst others, people over 65 and those with darker skin should be taking supplements of vitamin D. Our director, Marian Nicholson, has! She takes the recommended dose of 10 mcg (400 i.u.) of vitamin D to lessen the chance of an outbreak. And it does not just help with herpes simplex, she rarely gets a cold. If she does, it is gone in a day or so.
In addition, the Department of Health and Social Care recommends a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if you:
• are not often outdoors – for example, if you’re frail or housebound
• are in an institution like a care home
• usually wear clothes that cover up most of your skin when outdoors
• you have dark skin – for example you have an African, African- Caribbean or south Asian background.
The short answer is no – herpes antiviral medication will not help with flu. (This a question that we have been asked lately – of course!)
There are millions of different viruses in the world. The antiviral drugs that work to suppress herpes viruses have no impact on any of the other viruses. And this includes those that cause colds, flu and Covid-19. The antiviral medication for herpes simplex works against herpes varicella – chickenpox, but that’s it.
Will taking antivirals make any difference to getting Covid-19?
Taking antiviral pills will make no difference to your immune response – the pills work only on the virus, not on human cells at all.
– should people with herpes worry more about Covid-19?
The short answer is no. (This is the other question that has come up a lot!)
At least two thirds of adults carry herpes simplex infections (facial cold sores and/or genital herpes) by age 25 – all over the world. Herpes simplex may cause symptoms in people when they are ill or stressed. But its effect on the immune system of otherwise healthy people is minimal and having herpes is not likely to make any difference to people who catch Covid-19.
A single “tiny tube” is all they need. They are comparing antibodies in people with type 2 who do, and who don’t, get outbreaks. This could be helpful in future vaccine research. It is hoped that a vaccine could be used to treat people with too many outbreaks in order to give a “functional cure”. (This means to “take away the symptoms“.)
Interested? To help research: contact Dr Bret S. Palmer via e-mail at [email protected] to find out more and how you can take part in the study. (IRAS Project ID: 260102)
A shingles vaccine is offered to volunteers. Are over 50? And have you had shingles (herpes varicella)? If so, you might qualify for the trial to prove the effectiveness of the ‘other’ shingles vaccine. [Currently, the vaccine offered to people in their 70s is Zostavax. This is a single jab.]
This trial is about a two-jab shingles vaccine (immunisation). The manufacturer, GSK, is running a placebo-controlled trial. This means that you might get the real thing, or a sterile water (safe placebo) injection instead. You won’t know, and neither will the person who carries out the vaccination.