Research shows that as many as 50 to 90 percent of HIV-positive people around the world have herpes. While two recent studies showed that herpes meds also helped HIV-positive women reduce their HIV viral loads and drop their risk of transmitting HIV to their partners, results from another study presented at July’s International AIDS Society Conference warned that herpes therapy doesn’t necessarily protect against HIV infection. Currently, 23 federal and private clinical trials are studying genital herpes, eight of them specifically examining HIV coinfection. While we wait for the final word on whether or not herpes meds suppress HIV, check out these tips for healthy living:
To manage outbreaks: It’s not enough to take herpes meds only when you have symptoms, says Lloyd Bailey, MD, attending physician at the Spellman Center at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. Instead, get on immune-suppressing (daily long-term) therapy for HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes. Ask your doc about meds such as Valtrex (valacyclovir), Zovirax (acyclovir) or Famvir (famciclovir). Taking these regularly will help guard against herpes’ trademark genital sores.
To ease symptoms: If you do have an outbreak, try taking a lukewarm bath, or put ice on the lesions. Be sure to keep the area clean and dry (this will also reduce the chances of spreading it further), and wear cotton underwear so as not to restrict air circulation around the outbreak.
To reduce drug interactions: Ask your doctor if any of the HIV meds you’re taking interfere with your herpes medications. If multiple drugs are cleared through the renal system (kidneys and urine), this could interfere with kidney function, notes Barbara Johnston, MD, director of ambulatory HIV medicine at St. Vincent’s, and you might have to adjust dosages.
To keep your partner safe: Always use condoms during sex—since you can still spread herpes even when you don’t have symptoms. “Condoms aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing herpes transmission, but they greatly cut down on the risk,” says Dr. Johnston. And if you have concerns about disclosing to your partner that you have herpes, take the time to explain the steps you’ve taken to stay in control of both viruses. He or she will likely appreciate the proactive approach you’ve taken to your health.
Add these holistic remedies to your drug regimen:
From practicing yoga to journaling, do what you can to reduce stress; herpes often flares up when you’re anxious and worn down, says Dr. Johnston.
Eat a healthful diet, exercise and get plenty of sleep, all of which help bolster immunity.
Some research also shows that the amino acid arginine, found in chocolate, almonds and peanuts, can increase herpes symptoms; getting more of the amino acid L-lysine, which is found in beef, chicken, fish and potatoes, can help decrease outbreaks. Add lysine-rich foods to your diet, or ask your doctor about lysine supplements.