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When will there be a cure for herpes?

A member just asked us this question. We get asked “will there be a herpes cure” every day. It proves how successful the aciclovir (Zovirax) marketing campaign was in the 1980s.

a possible herpes cure as a pill?

The masterstroke was to call herpes ‘incurable’ to make it seem important. (There is in truth, almost nothing about genital herpes that is important, so the drug company did some creative thinking.) This was a brilliant idea because it ensured the success of aciclovir. They put herpes on the map and it has never looked back!

What Humpty Dumpty said

Incurable is an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ word. It can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you are diagnosed with terminal cancer, you have something that is genuinely incurable and you are going to die. If you have a bad cold, you have an infection that medical professionals call ‘incurable’ because there is nothing that they can prescribe for you that is going to make the cold go away more quickly.  (You can take paracetamol and that can help with the symptoms, but the cold will last just as long.) Cold sores and genital herpes are not incurable because symptoms go away by themselves without treatment. If herpes was incurable, the sores would never go away.

In fact, for most people, the virus is so well controlled that they don’t even notice enough to realise that they have caught anything at all, so they are not even diagnosed. What the drug company’s marketing campaign was capitalising on was the ability of the herpes simplex virus to hide in the body and sometimes cause more symptoms later. They could have called it ‘clever’, but that doesn’t sound scary.

It’s a strategy

Hiding is a common strategy for infections. We all carry around many things that do this: chickenpox, glandular fever, facial cold sores, thrush. They have not been marketed as ‘incurable’, but they all stay in the body and may cause symptoms from time to time. Some people notice more than others.

To get back to your question: Millions of pounds are spent every year on research into new treatments and vaccines for herpes. We write about this in every issue of SPHERE. [The magazine sent every 3 months to our subscribers.]

The development I am most excited about is a new antiviral drug that looks to be better than the ones we have now and may be used in combination with aciclovir. We will see if it gets to market. [Updates will be in SPHERE.]

Don’t be misled by marketing

The ‘incurable’ word led to the stigma. The stigma led to more research into treatments because people have been made anxious enough to buy drugs and supplements that most of the time, they probably don’t need. Nearly everyone diagnosed with herpes asks about a cure. No you know why.

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Laura’s letter to her younger self

Dear Laura,

I know exactly how you’re feeling. You’re 26, and you’ve just found out from the doctor that you have herpes. You’ve just burst out crying in front of the awkward-looking trainee GP. You feel like your whole world is over, you’re damaged goods and no-one will ever want to have sex with you again.  

You’re going to spend the next week in the flat, crying, downing wine and despairing at the terrible injustice – you only had sex with him one time! And you didn’t even really like him!

Well I’m pleased to say that ten years’ later, you’re doing great! Yes, at the beginning it was difficult, and maybe you did avoid some romantic encounters because you felt insecure about having to tell someone you had herpes. But then, about a year later, you met Steve – such a great guy. You waited until you’d been out a few times, and you were about to get near to having sex, and then sort of blurted it out. And he was absolutely fine about it! You ended up dating for almost a year, and then after that you went on to have three more really happy relationships. No tears, no rejection – everyone you told basically shrugged their shoulders and never mentioned it again. 

Married now

Then you met the person that you would end up marrying. You were really nervous, because you knew she was someone special. Spent the whole meal trying to eat your dinner and follow the conversation, with heart pumping at deafening volume. Well that was an anti-climax – again -just a shoulder shrug and ‘oh, I don’t know much about it but I’m not bothered at all’. Cut to 5 years later, and we’re still going strong.

So what I’d love to be able to do for you (and everyone who might be going through something similar) is give you a giant hug and tell you that IT WILL BE OK! You are the person who will be the most worried about things – not your future partners. They will choose you because they fancy you and love you – as you would for others, because why on earth would you not go out with someone because of a skin condition? How ridiculous! And if you do come across someone who judges you on the basis of that skin condition, do you want to waste your time with someone like that? There are so many good ones out there.

Honestly the hardest thing you’ll have to get over are your own feelings of shame and embarrassment – and you’re still working on it (that’s why I’m using a pseudonym here). But there are people like Marian and Nigel trying to break down that stigma, and in time maybe you’ll work up the courage to be 100% open.

But in the meantime dry your tears, and try not to worry too much about the future, because it’s a really really happy one.

Lots of love, you +10 

Xx

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Thrush or herpes?

How should I treat thrush (candida), when I have genital herpes?

Thrush is also known as candidiasis or a yeast infection.

It is widely thought that that using a thrush cream to treat a yeast infection can make a genital herpes outbreak worse. So if you have both at once, it is best to use a pill (oral medication) to get rid of thrush: you can buy fluconazole pills (brand name Difflucan or Canesten) at the chemist or it can be prescribed by your doctor. One dose should be enough.Woman taking a thrush pill

First of all, it may be an idea to make sure that thrush is actually what you have. American studies show that two-thirds of women who buy over-the-counter thrush treatments don’t have a yeast infection at all.

Problems may also be caused by ‘jock itch’ – another itchy rash, often in the groin  Continue reading Thrush or herpes?

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We did oral and regular sex – could I have herpes on my face too?

It is surprising that people rarely catch it on the face as well as on the genitals! When you consider how often we do oral sex and ‘normal sex’ on the same night.

Cartoon woman points at her mouth
Is it a cold sore?

This is a common story/question that we get on the helpline/by email:
“I was diagnosed two months ago with genital herpes. I got it off my partner’s cold sore – yes, it is type 1 – and now I have something on my lip/in my mouth. [Described as a cut on lip, a lump in mouth, or an ulcer on tongue/gum]. Could this be facial herpes too – have I got a cold sore as well?”

The answer is No, that is not going to be a cold sore.

Why? When you get your first symptoms,  Continue reading We did oral and regular sex – could I have herpes on my face too?

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The Organisms That Call Your Body Home

The human body is made up of an ultra-complex system of ever-shifting cells. Everything we experience in life is a creation of the 200 different cell types populating our bodies, never sleeping and always working. Joining those 200 cells types are countless different other organisms, including bacteria and viruses. Many of these coexist peacefully in your body.
Continue reading The Organisms That Call Your Body Home

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Meeting people with herpes

Like a letter in a bottle:

A member asked us about putting a Dates and Mates advert into the magazine: “I would like to meet some new friends male or female who I can trust and talk to… shall I put an ad in?” She added: “I had an invitation to a gathering but felt it was too big a step to take, I wish I had the confidence to do it …”
Continue reading Meeting people with herpes

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Helpline – what they ask

What is it?

It amazes our new helpline volunteers how often a caller phones to describe their symptoms and get the helpliner to say what they have. We cannot do that. There are 24 ‘differential diagnoses’ that a sexual health doctor will be considering when s/he is shown what might be genital herpes.

We don’t list these on our website as we don’t want to encourage self-diagnosis.  After all, they don’t give a medical student a link to a website and say ‘Now you can diagnose sexually shared conditions”!
Continue reading Helpline – what they ask