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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. Now you know why.

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