TUESDAY, March 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A widely used herpes drug also seems to help people with the HIV virus, even if those people don't also have herpes, a new small study found.
The researchers said their findings challenge the belief that drug Valtrex (valacyclovir) requires the presence of herpes to benefit people with HIV-1. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
The study included 18 HIV patients in Peru. When patients took Valtrex twice daily for two weeks, they had decreases in HIV-1 levels. Patients taking a placebo saw their HIV levels go up.
Experts thought that Valtrex worked against HIV by reducing inflammation caused by the herpes virus. This would give the HIV virus fewer active immune cells to attack, reducing the spread of the virus. But the drug doesn't depend on reducing inflammation to work against HIV, said study co-senior author Dr. Michael Lederman, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
This means that Valtrex can be used in a broader range of people with HIV-1, and also suggests promising new directions for creating new HIV drugs, the researchers said.
That's especially important because some forms of HIV-1 have become resistant to existing drugs.
"The drug might be an agent that can be used safely in some people with HIV infection who have a form of HIV that is highly resistant to other antiretroviral drugs," Lederman said in a university news release.
"Valacyclovir might well augment the cocktail of medications they take for reducing HIV replication. Valacyclovir is a well-tolerated drug, and it doesn't have a lot of side effects," he added.
The findings were published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has more about HIV/AIDS.