The Herpes - HIV connection and Conundrum

Health Writer

Did you know that having herpes can put you at a higher risk of catching HIV if exposed?   Well, it's true so researchers though that the opposite might hold true as well.   Researchers decided to test the theory that maybe by treating herpes - they could cut the risk of HIV susceptibility.   Actually, the strategy didn't work.

Researchers tracked 3,000 men and women with herpes in Africa, Peru and the US.   Half of the individuals were treated with **acyclovir**, an antiviral that stops herpes ulcers (the other half received a placebo).   After a year, the researchers then looked at AIDS outbreaks among the 2 groups.   The group treated with the antiviral medication had 75 cases of AIDS; the untreated group (they were on placebo) had 64 cases.

Experts were disappointed but they also came to the conclusion that treating herpes to avoid HIV was not necessarily a bad working theory.   The researchers think that more potent interventions are probably necessary.   What also became clear is that when people with herpes have small ulcers that erupt, the next thing that happens is that white blood cells (infection fighting cells) are drawn to those surface skin areas to fight the virus.   Those same white blood cells actually have receptors for HIV.   That explains the higher  risk for an AIDS infection.   And they also concluded that the group treated with acyclovir still harbored the herpes virus actively, even when ulcers were not visibly present -  which explains why HIV  could still easily  to take hold in patients treated with the anti-viral medication.

To bottom line it - a pill that's taken twice a day** may not** be strong enough to ward off the powerful HIV virus; different and more powerful medications may hold the key to treating herpes AND preventing the increased risk to HIV.   Time and research in this case will hopefully tell.