New developments in the epidemiology, natural history and management of genital herpes

Antiviral Res. 1999 May;42(1):1-14. doi: 10.1016/s0166-3542(99)00004-2.


The prevalence of genital herpes is increasing in several populations worldwide. Factors that may be contributing to this increase include greater numbers of sexual partners, the high frequency of asymptomatic infections, poor use of safe sexual practices, and possibly the decreased incidence of childhood oral herpes simplex virus infection. Transmission occurs via skin-to-skin or mucous membrane contact during periods of viral shedding when lesions are present but may also occur when the patient is unaware of the lesions or when lesions are not clinically apparent. This has important implications for strategies to prevent transmission of the disease. The introduction of the antiherpes agent, acyclovir, and more recently famciclovir and valacyclovir, facilitates the management of genital herpes. Treatment of first-episode genital herpes reduces the severity and duration of symptoms, time to lesion healing, and cessation of viral shedding. Episodic treatment of recurrences as they occur may be of benefit to some patients. Daily suppressive therapy significantly reduces the frequency of recurrences and asymptomatic viral shedding. Accordingly, patients who experience frequent or severe recurrences, those particularly troubled by their disease, and those who wish to reduce the frequency of asymptomatic infection generally prefer suppressive therapy. The possibility that suppressive therapy may have an impact on transmission of the disease is currently under investigation. Antiviral treatments have important implications for public health and may help reduce the psychological and psychosocial impact of genital herpes on individual patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Herpes Genitalis* / drug therapy
  • Herpes Genitalis* / epidemiology
  • Herpes Genitalis* / pathology
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human*
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human*
  • Humans


  • Antiviral Agents