With the HPV vaccine a success for preventing cervical cancer, doctors are now turning to the treatment of an even more common sexually transmitted infection – herpes.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) this week announced that it is sponsoring a clinical trial of a genital herpes vaccine. The trial will be led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to determine the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Ten years of pre-clinical testing on the vaccine have already been completed.
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the type-2 herpes simplex virus. According to the NIH, approximately 776,000 Americans are diagnosed with genital herpes every year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 16% of Americans aged 14 to 49 have genital herpes. Though genital herpes does not carry the same cancer risks that HPV does, doctors say the infection can still pose risks – especially to newborns.
“Although genital herpes is treatable, it is a lifelong infection that can exact a substantial psychological and physical toll on infected individuals and places them at higher risk of acquiring HIV,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID. “Furthermore, mothers with active genital herpes infection at time of delivery can transmit the virus to their newborns, which can lead to severe illness and death.”
The trial is currently recruiting around 60 people between the ages of 18 and 40. Study participants will be divided into three groups. One will be people who have already been diagnosed with genital herpes, one will be people who have only been diagnosed with type-1 herpes simples (commonly associated with sores on the face), and another group that has never been diagnosed with herpes. Each participant will be vaccinated (or given a placebo) three times within the first six months of the trial. Study participants will then be followed through blood samples until the end of the trial, which is expected to be in October 2016.
“A protective vaccine would help to reduce significantly the spread of this all-too- common sexually transmitted infection,” said Fauci.