Objective: Many cases of herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection occur through asymptomatic shedding from persons without evidence of clinical disease. This study explores whether famciclovir reduces HSV shedding in HSV-2 seropositive persons with or without a history of symptomatic genital herpes.
Study design: One hundred twenty-seven HSV-2 seropositive participants were randomly assigned to 42 days of famciclovir, followed by 14 days of washout and 42 days of placebo, or vice versa. All subjects swabbed the genital/perianal area; those with HSV-1 infection also swabbed the oral area daily for HSV DNA PCR.
Results: Famciclovir reduced genital and oral HSV shedding from 11.4% of days during the placebo period to 4.7% of days during famciclovir therapy. The reduction was greater in participants with a history of genital herpes (74%) than in those without such a history (30%). In multivariate analyses, famciclovir protected against total (clinical and subclinical) genital shedding among persons with a clinical history of genital herpes (RR, 0.23; 95% CI, 0.15-0.35; P < 0.001). Among HSV-2 seropositive participants without a history of genital herpes, 60% had HSV detected in the genital area at least once during the study. Famciclovir therapy did not result in a statistically significant reduction in total HSV shedding in participants without a history of genital herpes.
Conclusion: Famciclovir therapy decreases genital HSV shedding in HSV-seropositive persons, especially those with a history of genital herpes. Overall, antiviral drugs may have varying effects on symptomatic and asymptomatic viral shedding, depending on the clinical history of the disease.