Chronic herpes generally refers to infected people who have six or more outbreaks of herpes in a year’s time. Frequent outbreaks are a medical concern because herpes simplex virus does create a risk for other illnesses, such as the development of viral meningitis, and a high frequency of outbreaks can make it difficult for people to pursue sexual relations. Most people have fewer infections per year and these become less frequent the longer the person has the condition. Some people are particularly prone to herpes outbreaks, especially those with compromised immune systems. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully treat this condition.
When a person has active symptoms of herpes, the condition is usually considered acute — each outbreak is called an acute phase of herpes. Chronic herpes cannot be diagnosed until the outbreak number exceeds six acute phases within a year. In the first year that a person contracts herpes, it’s possible to have six or more outbreaks, without being considered chronic, provided outbreaks are reduced in the second year. Diagnosis is made easier if outbreaks continue to be frequent in the second year or several years after contraction of the illness.
Most people will not have chronic forms of herpes, but in the first year many doctors recommend that people take antiviral medications like acyclovir or famciclovir. Not only can these help reduce the discomfort of an initial infection, but they can also suppress additional infections. This doesn’t mean that people can expect to have no infections, but they often have fewer infections if they use an antiviral medication. These medications are usually only used for six months to a year. In cases where patients appear to have chronic herpes, these medications are used for a longer time period.
In addition to reducing the numerous infections that may accompany herpes, antiviral medications may help reduce risk for developing illnesses that can be very dangerous. In particular, it’s essential to decrease the possible chance of developing conditions like meningitis, which is difficult to treat and can cause swelling of the brain. Since those prone to frequent herpes outbreaks may have compromised immune systems, it’s also important to reduce incidence of outbreaks so that other complications like infection don’t occur.
Indication for how long a patient should remain on antiviral medications really depends on the individual. Some people remain on antivirals for a year or longer. If a patient continues to have an ongoing autoimmune or immunosuppressed state, he or she might require medical treatment for herpes for longer. Some people with chronic herpes are able to discontinue medication after a few years and have significant reduction in the amount of outbreaks. Again, it’s important to state that most people do not have chronic herpes, but if they experience frequent outbreaks, they should see their physician for medical advice.