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Overview of Herpesvirus Infections

By

Kenneth M. Kaye

, MD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020

Some common viral infections are caused by herpesviruses. Eight different herpesviruses infect people:

Did You Know...

  • All of the herpesviruses cause lifelong infection because the virus remains dormant in some of the cells it infects.

All of the herpesviruses cause lifelong infection because the virus remains within its host cell in an inactive (dormant or latent) state. Sometimes the virus reactivates and produces further episodes of disease. Symptoms from reactivation can be different than the symptoms of the initial infection. Reactivation may occur rapidly or many years after the initial infection. (See also Overview of Viral Infections.)

Treatment

Some antiviral drugs have been developed to treat one or more herpesvirus infections.

Some Antiviral Drugs for Herpesvirus Infections

Drug

Common Uses

Some Side Effects

Acyclovir

Genital herpes

Herpes zoster (shingles)

Chickenpox

Few serious side effects

Rarely, kidney damage

Rarely, in people with a weakened immune system, thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) and hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS)

Cidofovir

Cytomegalovirus infections, including retinitis (infection of the retina of the eye)

Kidney damage

Famciclovir

Genital herpes

Herpes zoster (shingles)

Chickenpox

Few serious side effects

Foscarnet

Cytomegalovirus infections

Kidney damage

Electrolyte disturbances

Ganciclovir

Cytomegalovirus infections, including retinitis

Low white blood cell count

Penciclovir (cream)

Cold sores

Few side effects

Redness at site of application

Trifluridine (eye drops)

Herpes simplex keratitis (infection of the cornea)

Stinging of the eyes

Swelling of the eyelids

Valacyclovir

Genital herpes

Herpes zoster (shingles)

Chickenpox

Few serious side effects (similar to acyclovir)

Valganciclovir

Cytomegalovirus infections

Similar to ganciclovir (that is, a low white blood cell count)

Vidarabine (as ointment applied to the eyes)

Herpes simplex keratitis

Irritation of the eyes

Sensitivity to light

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
Valganciclovir VALCYTE
Valacyclovir VALTREX
Trifluridine VIROPTIC
Penciclovir DENAVIR
Famciclovir FAMVIR
Ganciclovir CYTOVENE
Acyclovir ZOVIRAX
Foscarnet FOSCAVIR
Cidofovir VISTIDE

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