A topical treatment disables key proteins necessary for the herpesvirus to infect and thrive in the host. Using a laboratory strategy called RNA interference, or RNAi, the treatment cripples the virus in a molecular two-punch knockout, simultaneously disabling its ability to replicate, as well as the host cell’s ability to take up the virus. The research, conducted in mice, demonstrated that the treatment is effective when applied anywhere from one week before infection to a few hours after virus exposure.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 536 million people worldwide are infected with herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), the most common strain of this sexually transmitted disease. Women are disproportionately affected. This is especially serious, since the virus can easily be passed from mother to child during birth, and untreated infants face high risks of brain damage and death. While HSV-2 alone isn’t life-threatening in adults, infection increases vulnerability to infection with other viruses such as HIV. In fact co-infection with HSV-2 is the most important co-factor globally for sexual transmission of HIV infection. If the findings from this study are successfully replicated in human trials, people worldwide—particularly women—will have a new and powerful means of protecting themselves from this harmful pathogen.
In early 2008, there was a separate Harvard developed Herpes vaccine. This is in preclinical trials.