In people who have had at least one outbreak of blistering from genital herpes, the drug famciclovir sharply reduces virus shedding from the external portions of the genitalia, a new study finds. Such shedding can spread the virus between people.
Despite the apparent risk of herpes spreading during an outbreak, most new cases of genital herpes are caused by sexual contact with an infected person without visible blisters, says Peter Leone, a physician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. Because such silent transmission "is what drives the epidemic," he says, inhibiting shedding could prove valuable.
Famciclovir (Famvir) is a daily antiviral pill prescribed to limit herpes outbreaks. To test whether it can also stop viral shedding, researchers identified 129 men and women with genital herpes and randomly assigned half to take famciclovir and half to get an inert pill. After 42 days, the regimens were reversed. Participants and researcher