Herpes treatment may help HIV patients: study

BOSTON (Reuters) - Treating genital herpes may slow the progression of the AIDS virus in those infected with both viruses, researchers reported on Wednesday.

The test involving 140 women in the West African country of Burkina Faso found that when herpes was being treated with 500 milligrams of the drug valacyclovir twice daily for three months, the women were less likely to shed, or spread, the AIDS virus.

In addition, the treatment reduced the levels of AIDS virus in the blood, the research group led by Dr. Nicolas Nagot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found.

The drug’s effect increased steadily over time, so “a longer duration of treatment might have led to an even greater reduction” in the amount of HIV detected, the researchers conclude in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Valacyclovir, made and sold by GlaxoSmithKline under the brand name Valtrex, is one of several drugs that can treat herpes.

Among people already infected with HIV, up to 70 percent in Europe and 90 percent in Africa also carry the virus for genital herpes, HSV-2.

Until now, doctors have placed less emphasis on genital herpes because it is not as dangerous as HIV.

The new study may change that, said Dr. Philip Keiser, who runs the AIDS clinic at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not connected with the research.

With existing HIV treatments, “the best we can do right now is to get 70 to 80 percent of patients to the point where we totally suppress the virus. That means that 20 to 30 percent, right off the bat, will not do well,” he said in a telephone interview.

He said he would change the way he treats patients who have both HIV and herpes.

“I’ll be more aggressive in treating their herpes and keep them on the valacyclovir for a long time,” Keiser said. “This may be one of those small refinements that add something to that (success rate) and help our patients do better over the long haul.”

Researchers already knew that treating sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea and syphilis could help make people less likely to become infected with HIV, which is passed most commonly through sex.