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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.