Is There a Herpes Vaccine?

Dr. Babak Ashrafi

Medically reviewed by

Dr Babak Ashrafi

Last reviewed: 23 Jun 2022

There is currently no vaccination or cure for herpes although there are treatments that can help if you have a herpes outbreak. There are vaccines being researched and developed in the UK that are going through clinical trials, although this can take years. If you think you have herpes, you can get tested and prevent the spread of herpes by using a condom.

Contents
Man in cafe checking his laptop to see if there is a herpes vaccine
 

Key takeaways

  • There is currently no vaccination against herpes which is available on the market in the UK.

  • Herpes can lay dormant in your body for months or years before an outbreak which makes it difficult to cure.

  • There are vaccines being researched and developed in the UK that are currently going through clinical trials.

  • Herpes can go away on its own but often takes longer than without treatment.

  • You can prevent catching or passing on herpes by practising safe sex.

Can you get vaccinated against herpes?

As of 2022, there is currently no vaccination against herpes which is available on the market in the UK. Some herpes vaccinations are being developed and researched by different companies, such as:

  • RVx201
  • VC2
  • Sanofi Pasteur’s HSV529

Each of these vaccines is at a different stage in clinical trials.

What are clinical trials?

When a medication or vaccination is licensed in the UK, it first needs to go through testing to make sure it is safe and effective for humans. This includes 2 stages which are preclinical and clinical development.

During preclinical development, the vaccination will be tested on animals. Once proven to be effective and safe, clinical development is started on humans. This stage can last years and can prove efficiency and safety, as well as check for short and long term side effects.

Why is it difficult to create a herpes vaccine?

It is difficult to create a herpes vaccination because of the nature of the virus. The herpes virus, known as herpes simplex, has complicated DNA compared to other viruses that we can be vaccinated against. Herpes can also stay in the body for years without us knowing until we have an outbreak.

As it is not always active in the immune system, this can make developing a vaccination difficult as there is no specific target. Some people do not have a herpes outbreak for years, meaning it can also be difficult to know whether the vaccination has worked.

When will a vaccine for herpes be available?

It is not known when a herpes vaccine will be available as clinical trials can last many years. A vaccination must also be licensed in the UK by governing bodies, which takes time. The herpes vaccine RVx201 has been awarded an innovation passport in the UK in 2021. This means it is going through clinical trials but no further information has currently been released.

Sanofi’s HSV529 vaccination is going through clinical trials in the USA and as of January 2021 is still in phase 1 of testing on humans. The VC2 HSV vaccine is also going through clinical trials, although no further information has been released since 2021. mRNA-1608 is another vaccine which is in the preclinical studies stage.

Are there any vaccines available for the herpes virus?

There is currently a vaccine available in the UK for shingles, which is caused by herpes zoster. This is the same family of viruses but not the virus that causes genital herpes or cold sores.

Herpes is caused by herpes simplex 2. There are also 2 strains of the herpes virus, known as HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 can affect the face, mouth, and genitals, whilst HSV-2 mainly affects the genitals.

Will there be a cure for herpes?

There may be a cure for herpes in the future but it is difficult to say when this could be. Some companies are focusing on a vaccination, which could prevent an outbreak or be given to people who have not yet caught herpes.

There are also tests being done in genetic engineering, which involves trying to affect the DNA of the herpes virus in your system. This could stop it from multiplying and causing outbreaks but research is still inconclusive.

Why is it so difficult to cure herpes?

Usually, when you are infected with a virus, your body has an immune response. This involves your body making antibodies. These antibodies can destroy the virus over time making you feel better. If you are infected again, your antibodies may be able to stop the virus from making you sick.

It is difficult to cure herpes because of the way it lives inside your body. Unlike many other viruses that infect you straight away, herpes can lay dormant in your body for months or years before an outbreak. The virus contains protein molecules which means it can avoid the antibodies in your immune system. This makes it difficult to create antibodies in your body naturally or through vaccination.

What should I do if I catch herpes?

If you catch herpes, you should speak to a doctor or visit your local sexual health (STI) clinic. You can get tested for herpes or do a test at home. You can get treatment like antiviral medications to relieve symptoms and make your herpes outbreak shorter. To prevent herpes from being passed on to other people, you should use a condom.

Herpes testing

Herpes is often diagnosed by a doctor by looking at your herpes rash and through herpes testing. You can get tested for herpes at your local sexual health clinic or by using a genital herpes home test kit.

Herpes treatment

Herpes can go away on its own but often takes longer than without treatment. Herpes treatment can also help to relieve symptoms such as itching. Genital herpes is treated with antiviral medications, which can help to prevent the virus from multiplying in your body, giving your body time to fight the virus. ZAVA can prescribe a range of genital herpes treatments including:

  • aciclovir, a tablet that contains the active ingredient aciclovir and is taken either 3 or 5 times a day for 5 days (depending on the dose), or as long as your doctor tells you
  • valaciclovir, a tablet that contains the active ingredient valaciclovir, a prodrug that your body changes into aciclovir after you take it
  • famciclovir, another prodrug which changes famciclovir into penciclovir in your body and is taken 3 times a day for 5 days

You can also get cream for cold sores which may also contain antiviral medication like aciclovir. You can take treatment for the first outbreak and recurrent outbreaks. This works best if taken as soon as you notice your symptoms returning. Most people get fewer outbreaks over time which become less severe.

If you have herpes and get frequent outbreaks, you may be given suppressive treatment. This is usually a low dose of antiviral medication which is taken daily to prevent a further outbreak. You should speak to your doctor if you keep getting herpes outbreaks.

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Herpes prevention

You can prevent catching or passing on herpes by practising safe sex. You should use a condom whenever you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex. A condom will only work if it covers the infected area. You can also pass on herpes when there are no visible symptoms. If you or a sexual partner has an outbreak and symptoms of herpes, avoid sex until this goes away. You should also avoid sharing sex toys.

Herpes is often triggered by something, such as wearing tight clothes, stress, smoking, or drinking alcohol. It is important to learn about your triggers so you can avoid them where possible.

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion

Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.

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Last reviewed: 23 Jun 2022


You can treat genital herpes two ways. One treatment option is for when you experience an individual outbreak (acute therapy) and the other is treatment for when you need to avoid regular outbreaks (suppressive). ZAVA offers both types of treatment through a discreet, convenient service.




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