Medicine: The Case Against Herpes

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Although there was until recently no really effective treatment for herpes simplex infections of either type, there are now several promising techniques. Houston's Dr. Troy Felber has found that painting herpes simplex sores with light-sensitive dyes and then exposing them to light from a fluorescent tube cuts the healing time* by 50%. Drs. G. Robert Nugent and Samuel Chou of the West Virginia University Medical Center recently reported that applications of ordinary ether or chloroform will clear up herpes sores in as little as two days, apparently by altering the virus so as to make it more vulnerable to the body's natural defenses. Other doctors are finding the antiviral drug isoprinosine effective. An oral drug that seems to bolster the body's immune response to the virus (TIME, March 19), isoprinosine has been used against both herpes simplex and genital herpes infections and has stopped progression of the disease and initiated healing within 48 hours. So far, however, one goal has eluded scientists: finding a drug that will prevent herpes infections.

Ominous. That goal has now assumed greater importance. Mothers with genital herpes can pass the virus on to their offspring, who may develop skin lesions and internal infections. The virus may also be responsible for more serious illness in the carriers themselves. Type II virus particles have been found to transform normal animal cells into cancerous ones in test tubes, and the discovery has raised speculation that the type II herpes may be linked to genital cancers in humans. "It's like finding a guy with a gun in a building where a murder has been committed," says Alvin Glasky of Newport Pharmaceuticals International, Inc., the firm that developed isoprinosine. "The gunman is suspect, but you have to prove that he pulled the trigger."

Genetic substances of herpes viruses have also been isolated from the cells of women with cervical cancer. There is other ominous evidence linking the virus with malignancy. Dr. Andre Nahmias and his colleagues at Atlanta's Emory University have been conducting a long-range study of 900 women known to have had genital herpes, comparing them with 600 women who have not had the infection. The incidence of cervical cancer is eight times higher in the first group than the second.

* Which, for untreated sores, can be as long as three to six weeks for first outbreak and from one to two weeks for later infections.

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