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Vaccine for Herpes

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Information on a vaccine for herpes and current research into a herpes cure.

There is no cure for herpes.

After infection, herpes lies dormant within nerve cells inside the body. Normally your immune system would eradicate the virus, but because of how important nerve cells are to body functions, your body has safeguards to protect them from any stray immune system cells.

Unfortunately, this means that once in your nerve cells, the herpes virus cannot be eradicated. That is why prevention is the clearest way to reduce the likelihood of developing herpes, and that is why a herpes vaccine would be such a valuable tool to stop the spread of HSV-1 and HSV-2.

Is There a Vaccine for Herpes?

Despite considerable research effort on the part of drug companies all over the world, there is currently no herpes vaccine available.

But there is some good news – while a vaccine is not available, there are several factors that indicate a vaccine for herpes may be possible in the not-too-distant future. These include:

Reasons to Be Excited about a Vaccine

There are now vaccines for chickenpox and shingles, both of which – while not directly similar to HSV-1 or HSV-2 in symptoms or eradication – is in the herpes family of viruses.

Because of the risk of herpes throughout the world, drug companies are motivated to be the first to come up with a herpes vaccine, to take advantage of the market. While their motivations may not be completely pure, this is good news overall, because it will continue to be a source of considerable financial interest until a vaccine for herpes is developed.

Several attempts to create a herpes vaccine have come close in the past, but have ultimately fallen short in the final stages of testing. Progress is not always about instant success – often it takes several attempts to create an effective vaccine, and the idea that they have come close is encouraging.

This was particularly true in a 1997 study by Cantab Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom. Extensive testing found what they believed to be an effective herpes vaccine for HSV-2, in which a patient was injected with a version of the virus without a key cog in its DNA.

This glycoprotein H (gH)-deleted herpes virus was a type of herpes without the DNA to replicate.

The idea would be that the patient is injected with a form of neutralized herpes that cures itself – after one cycle of replication, the herpes virus dies off, yet because the patient was injected with a live herpes virus they would presumably have the antibodies to fight off future infections.

This is based on a great deal of research that shows that the body cannot get herpes twice. Once someone has herpes, the body creates antibodies that protect against the virus. The only reason that the virus cannot be cured is that it hides in nerve cells that antibodies cannot reach.

Then, when it replicates and sheds to the surface, it creates some symptoms – but rarely symptoms as severe as the initial infection, since the body uses the available antibodies to fight off the disease.

In guinea pig testing (a traditional testing method before moving on to human subjects), the HSV-2 vaccine worked effectively, protecting against HSV-2 transmission with almost no recurrences. Unfortunately, current research on the vaccine has not produced effective enough results, so research is ongoing.

Other Research Into a Herpes Vaccine

Most of the time, the research attempts to locate a vaccine for HSV-2, because genital herpes not only carries the most negative social stigma but tends to have the most recurrences and cause more of a disruption in people's lives.

Interestingly, research into an HSV-2 vaccine has allowed researchers to discover potentially effective HSV-1 vaccines.

The two are considered "clinically indistinguishable." In a lab, the two are nearly identical under a microscope, so it surprised researchers when they found that a herpes vaccine they were working on to prevent HSV-2 in discordant couples (couples, where the male had herpes and the women, did not – in this all-female clinical trial) – was successful at preventing many cases of HSV-1 (though not all) but failed at preventing HSV-2.

In many ways, this is good news, has HSV-1 can affect the genitals and cause many of the same symptoms as HSV-2. But HSV-2 is the more recurrent disease and is more contagious to the genitals, so this finding did create issues with the ability to find a vaccine for herpes.

(Note: Most studies focus on female prevention, because women are more likely to be infected by HSV-2, and while HSV-2 is not deadly to adults, there are side effects that can affect a fetus while inside a pregnant woman that has contracted herpes)

Another issue that stands in the way of developing an effective herpes virus is that – while very rare – herpes virus can cause other health problems that may not be able to be "disabled" in a herpes vaccine.

Generally, herpes vaccines use a living but disabled virus or a dead virus; both of which are designed to create antibodies without spreading the herpes virus.

But herpes may have rare side effects that cannot or have not been disabled in the vaccine version of the virus, so research not only needs to go into genetically altering the lifespan of the disease inside the body – it also needs to alter the likelihood of potential rare herpes related side effects.

Would People Use a Herpes Vaccine?

There is, however, one issue that also prevents further research.

According to studies at the Indiana University School of Medicine, researchers found that the idea of an HSV-2 vaccine was not generally considered "acceptable" by the general population.

There are problems with social acceptance of a herpes vaccine because many people hold a stigma about those suffering from the herpes virus. They argue that a herpes vaccine will encourage premarital sex and other reckless behaviors.

While several companies still fund research into vaccines for herpes, this socio-political belief may make it much harder for a herpes vaccine to reach the general public, and even more difficult to convince others to use it.

The Likelihood of a Vaccine for Herpes

With so many research dollars poured into a herpes vaccine, there is a great deal of hope on the horizon.

DNA vaccines are becoming more and more common, and early research results have been promising. Indeed, while most studies that used animal populations have not seen the same results with human beings, the fact that these vaccines have shown such progress with the animal populations appears to indicate that a vaccine could be on the horizon.

Similarly, several of these studies have shown some success with HSV-1 over HSV-2. Yet the two are linked so closely to DNA that it may be possible for only a few changes to result in a greater likelihood of an HSV-2 vaccine.

Overall, while no vaccine for herpes currently exists, the likelihood of creating one soon remains promising.





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