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Systematic Review

Vol. 12 No. 1 (2009)

Suppressive valacyclovir therapy to reduce genital herpes transmission: Good public health policy?

  • Paul E Bonnar
November 12, 2020


Genital herpes is a widespread sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex viruses (HSV). Suppressive valacyclovir therapy has been shown to significantly reduce HSV transmission. The benefits and costs of using valacyclovir to reduce transmission in couples discordant for genital herpes will be analyzed in order to better inform decision-making. By reducing transmission, the physical and psychological harms of living with symptomatic genital herpes will be prevented while saving on certain healthcare costs. However, the large number needed to treat and the low symptomatic rate among infected individuals may outweigh these benefits. The costs of trying to achieve a significant reduction in incidence include the psychological harms of identifying asymptomatic individuals through a large screening program and the economic costs of the antiviral agent and screening. When these issues are weighed, the high economic costs render a program to reduce incidence unfeasible. Nevertheless, it is clinically important to consider the consequences of transmission at an individual level. The specific circumstances that influence the decision to use suppressive therapy are identified.


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