Is prophylactic acyclovir treatment warranted for prevention of herpes simplex virus infections in facial burns? A review of the literature

J Burn Care Res. May-Jun 2011;32(3):358-62. doi: 10.1097/BCR.0b013e318217f6de.


Both cosmetic facial resurfacing and facial burns cause an injury to the dermal layer of the skin. This injury renders the patient susceptible to primary herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection or, more commonly, to HSV reactivation. This in turn can lead to bacterial superinfection, possibly resulting in scarring and systemic dissemination in the immunosuppressed burn patient. HSV reactivation rates have been reported to be up to 50% in cosmetic procedures without acyclovir prophylaxis and up to 25% in patients with burn injury. Currently, acyclovir prophylaxis is a common practice in facial resurfacing, but no such recommendations have been issued for patients with burn injury. HSV usually presents in a febrile burn patient between the first and third postburn weeks as a cluster of small, umbilicated vesicles or vesicopustules on an erythematous base found within or around the margins of healing partial-thickness wounds. Diagnosis is confirmed through viral culture from the base of an unroofed vesicle, and treatment is begun with intravenous acyclovir. Antiviral prophylaxis should be strongly considered for HSV infection prevention in patients with major burn injury, particularly with burns involving the face. Acyclovir is the primary drug of choice, and contact precautions should be practiced. High suspicion levels and alertness to this entity can help prompt diagnosis and timely treatment while alleviating late complications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyclovir / therapeutic use*
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Burns / complications
  • Burns / drug therapy*
  • Burns / virology
  • Facial Injuries / complications
  • Facial Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Facial Injuries / virology
  • Female
  • Herpes Simplex / drug therapy
  • Herpes Simplex / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Premedication*
  • Primary Prevention / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Infection / etiology
  • Wound Infection / prevention & control*
  • Wound Infection / virology


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Acyclovir