Patients with frequently recurring genital herpes were enrolled in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial comparing 200-mg acyclovir capsules, given five or two times daily, with placebo. Of 47 placebo recipients, 44 (94 per cent) had recurrences during the 120-day treatment period, compared with 13 (29 per cent) of 45 patients treated with acyclovir five times daily and 18 of 51 (35 per cent) treated with acyclovir twice daily (P less than 0.001 for each regimen compared with placebo). The median time to the first clinical recurrence was 18 days in placebo recipients, compared with over 120 days in both acyclovir-treated groups (P less than 0.001 for both groups compared with placebo). The mean monthly recurrence rate during the medication period was 0.86 in placebo recipients, compared with 0.13 in patients treated with acyclovir five times daily and 0.14 in patients treated with acyclovir twice daily (P less than 0.001 for both groups compared with placebo). While receiving therapy, 86 of 96 acyclovir-treated patients had over a 50 per cent reduction in their pretreatment recurrence rate. Breakthrough recurrences in acyclovir recipients were of shorter duration and associated with a lower frequency of viral shedding than recurrences in placebo recipients. After medication was discontinued, the subsequent recurrence rate returned to pretreatment frequencies. Daily oral acyclovir was well tolerated. We conclude that oral acyclovir given for four months markedly reduces but does not completely prevent recurrences of genital herpes and does not influence the long-term natural history of the disease.