How do I Prevent a Herpes Outbreak?

wiseGEEK Writer

It used to be the case that there was no way to prevent a herpes outbreak. People would simply get them, and often at the worse times possible, like on a honeymoon or when they wanted to be intimate with a new partner. There are now methods to prevent these outbreaks, particularly with the use of antiviral drugs. However, it should be noted that not everyone has frequent outbreaks, and some people don’t require these medications for prevention since they seldom have active expression of the disease.

When a medication containing docosanol 10% is applied to a cold sore during the earliest phases, it has been proven to reduce the duration.
When a medication containing docosanol 10% is applied to a cold sore during the earliest phases, it has been proven to reduce the duration.

One of the standard medications used to prevent a herpes outbreak is acyclovir, also known by the brand name Zovirax®. It can be prescribed when an outbreak occurs to shorten its cycle. Other people use it on a daily basis to reduce the number of outbreaks and sometimes completely prevent them. This is called chronic suppressive therapy for recurrent disease, and usually involves taking acyclovir twice daily. Guidelines on the medication suggest assessing its effectiveness after a year of use to determine if patients should continue the therapy.

Condoms may not necessarily protect against genital herpes.
Condoms may not necessarily protect against genital herpes.

Over longterm use, acyclovir has minimal side effects. Less than 5% of people report occasional headache or stomach upset. The medication is generally not thought appropriate if people have kidney damage or disease, and its safety and effectiveness have not been fully established in women who are pregnant or nursing, or in pediatric populations. For many people though, chronic suppressive therapy with acyclovir works very well.

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A person who has a weak immune system has an increased risk of suffering a herpes outbreak or other active infection.
A person who has a weak immune system has an increased risk of suffering a herpes outbreak or other active infection.

Studies on acyclovir show that it tends to reduce herpes outbreak incidence to less than two episodes per year. There are a couple of other antiviral medications that may be used instead. These include valaciclovir, which has been shown to either delay or prevent outbreaks about 85% of the time. Famciclovir works about 70% of the time to prevent herpes outbreak.

Excessive exposure to the sun may increase the frequency of herpes outbreaks.
Excessive exposure to the sun may increase the frequency of herpes outbreaks.

In addition to preventing a herpes outbreak through medication, there may be some behavioral changes to make which may help reduce frequent disease expression. For instance, sun exposure can increase frequency and should be avoided. People may also be more prone to infections when they are stressed. Finding meaningful ways to reduce stress, through exercise, meditation or even counseling, might result in fewer herpes outbreaks.

Frequent hand washing can help prevent the spread of herpes.
Frequent hand washing can help prevent the spread of herpes.

Staying well can help too. Other viral or bacterial infections may activate the virus and create outbreaks. Keeping hands washed to avoid things like common colds and flus makes good sense.

A herpes blister.
A herpes blister.

It can also help to avoid known body stressors like extra weight, excessive alcohol or smoking. Though these don’t necessarily mean more infections, they can translate to making the body less healthy. When the body is not fully well, it means it has less resources to fight off dormant viruses or active disease.

Individuals with genital herpes are able to donate blood as long as they are feeling well.
Individuals with genital herpes are able to donate blood as long as they are feeling well.
Reducing stress levels with tools like counseling can help lower the chances of a herpes outbreak.
Reducing stress levels with tools like counseling can help lower the chances of a herpes outbreak.

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Discussion Comments

literally45

@candquilt-- I don't think that there are alternatives that are equally effective and that work the same way. Prescription anti-viral medications are best for those suffering from severe and chronic herpes outbreaks.

There are supplements and some remedies that may be used to support the immune system. And I'm sure that they will be beneficial, but they might not prevent or treat herpes outbreaks as effectively as anti-virals. For example, lysine, an amino acid, may be used as an oral supplement or a topical cream. There are also natural herbs and foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can strengthen the immune system.

It's best to ask a doctor because herpes symptoms and their intensity varies from person to person.

candyquilt

Are there alternatives to prescription anti-viral medications for preventing herpes outbreaks?

bluedolphin

It's normal for herpes outbreaks to occur at the worst possible time because stress is a trigger for herpes outbreaks. It has been proven that stress causes the immune system to weaken because of its effects on various hormones and functions in the body. And herpes outbreak occur when the immune system is weakened. The immune system normally suppresses the virus and keeps it dormant but when the immune system is not as strong, the virus suddenly becomes active.

So the best way to prevent a herpes outbreak is to keep the immune system strong. There are different ways to do that but one way is by reducing stress.

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