THURSDAY, Aug. 1, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- It's only been tried so far in guinea pigs, but researchers say a combination of a vaccine and a medicated cream could greatly lower recurrence of genital herpes.
The condition is very common, affecting about one out of six Americans between the ages of 14 and 49, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's currently no cure and attempts to develop a vaccine have had limited success.
The condition has more than just physical effects, noted one physician.
"Patients with genital herpes are very distressed by their diagnosis," said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "They feel it can be a lifelong problem and a huge issue with future sexual partners."
In the new study, researchers at Yale University gave either the new combo treatment, or the vaccine or cream alone, to guinea pigs infected with genital herpes.
The vaccine works by triggering immune cells called T cells to respond to the herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 2, which causes genital herpes.
The cream contains imiquimod, a medication commonly used to treat genital warts, explained the team led by Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunobiology at Yale. It's applied to the infection site in order to attract immune cells to the location so that they can prevent the virus from spreading and causing herpes lesions.
The dual-treatment approach was far more effective than either the vaccine or cream alone, according to the study published Aug. 1 in the journal npj Vaccines.
The guinea pigs in the study received three rounds of the combination therapy, which worked rapidly and began showing results even after the first round, Iwasaki's group said.
"It's the first time that a study has shown that prime-and-pull strategy can block existing recurrent disease," Iwasaki said in a university news release.
According to study co-corresponding author David Bernstein, "Development of a therapeutic HSV vaccine is a high priority. Our exciting results have encouraged us, and hopefully others, to pursue this strategy with more vaccines." Bernstein is a professor of pediatrics at Yale, and former director of the division of infectious diseases at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
If further research results in the combination therapy being developed into a treatment for people, it could be a game-changer for people with recurrent genital herpes infections or resistance to standard antiviral treatment, Iwasaki said.
For her part, Wu agreed that "the new research on the vaccine and imiquimod is promising but is still in the research phase with animals. Further human trials are needed before this protocol can give hope to genital herpes patients."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on genital herpes.