Genital herpes treatments

Updated on:
February 16, 2022

What treatments are available for genital herpes?

Treatments available for genital herpes cannot cure the infection but are effective at reducing symptoms. It is important to get treatment during a first outbreak as quickly as possible when symptoms appear. 

Antiviral medications like valacyclovir, famciclovir, and acyclovir, are typically prescribed after initial diagnosis and taken for 5-10 days. These are usually taken orally in pill form.

Antivirals work by slowing down the growth of herpes, making it easier for your body to control it. 

Antiviral therapy can also treat recurrent outbreaks and should be taken as soon as symptoms appear. They can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms. 

A doctor can prescribe episodic or suppressive therapy for individuals who experience recurrent outbreaks. Episodic therapy can be used when an outbreak is suspected or starts and is taken only when needed. Suppressive therapy is meant for those with frequent recurrent outbreaks (several per year) and is taken daily. 

These antiviral medications (like valacyclovir, brand name: Valtrex) are taken daily to minimize the frequency and severity of episodes. This type of medication also lowers the risk of transmission to sexual partners. 

In addition to antiviral medication, acetaminophen and ibuprofen (Tylenol and Advil) can be taken to help reduce overall discomfort. Other strategies to reduce discomfort include using ice packs, wearing loose-fitting clothing, cotton underwear, and taking warm baths during outbreaks.

What are the post-exposure treatment options for genital herpes?

After exposure to genital herpes, it's important to abstain from sexual activity until the initial symptoms have completely resolved. Book an appointment with your healthcare provider for diagnosis and testing approximately 12 days after you were exposed or as soon as you have symptoms. 

If symptoms or a positive diagnosis does occur, antiviral medications will most likely be prescribed.

When should I begin post-exposure treatment for genital herpes?

Post-exposure treatment for genital herpes only needs to occur after testing and a positive diagnosis has been made by a healthcare provider. If you have symptoms, you may be given a prescription before test results are available. 

Where can I get treatment for genital herpes?

Treatment for genital herpes can usually be administered on-site at sexual health clinics or obtained from your healthcare provider.

Can I have sex during and/or after my treatment for genital herpes?

Abstain from sex when you have active symptoms on genital herpes, the same time you would be on treatment. HSV is most easily transmitted when symptoms are present. 

Do not resume sexual activity until symptoms have cleared and your healthcare provider has indicated it is safe to do so.

How can I be sure the treatment for genital herpes worked?

While genital herpes may not be cured, antiviral treatments can help reduce the discomfort and severity of an outbreak. Speak with your healthcare provider if you do not experience improvement of symptoms within a few days of beginning treatment. They may prescribe a different medication or may reassess the diagnosis - something it is more than one thing.

If recurrent outbreaks happen to you frequently, you can take antiviral medication daily to reduce the number of outbreaks and lower transmission risk to your partner(s).

Reviewed by:
Dr. Caley Shukalek

Caley is passionate about evidence-based, patient-centred care, including telemedicine that can provide high quality care from wherever a patient may choose.

He helped create Alberta's PrEP guidelines and works as a specialist in General Internal Medicine with additional training in sexual health, including HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

He holds an Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University, an MD from the University of Calgary and an MSc from the University of Alberta.