Researchers have made the very first vaccine that inhibits genital herpes. But there is a significant catch: It will only work with women who never had fever blisters.
The findings are quite surprising. There has never been a vaccine that operates only on one sex. The experts asserted that this might lead to unforeseen challenges in the creation of other vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS in the future.
More Testing is Most Likely Required
The results were not the bull’s eye that the vaccine’s developer, SmithKline Beecham, had hoped for when they began designing the research studies ten years ago. Additional screening will almost certainly be needed for the drug to be approved, presuming that the business continues to support the study.
Nonetheless, medical professionals say a vaccine that offers even the slightest efficiency against a persistent disease is always worth the shot. The only other STD that can be stopped with a vaccine is hepatitis B.
Dr. Sportwood Spruance of the University of Utah was among those who tested the vaccine. He said that the chances that the herpes vaccine will be approved for routine are good, although it is likely to work only for a specific demographic.
He is expecting the vaccine to be provided to adolescent women. Widespread use of the vaccine in this manner would probably reduce genital herpes for both sexes because it would reduce the possibility of men who are in contact with contaminated women to acquire the disease as well.
Herpes Lasts a Lifetime
Herpes and cold sores arise from very related viruses. Herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, triggers fever blisters on the mouth, while HSV-2 activates sores on the genitals. Once acquired, both of these infections will last a lifetime.
These infections become more common with age. Current studies suggest that in the United States alone, 45 million people ages 12 and older are infected with the genital herpes infection.
Spruance and his colleagues discussed the results of two major studies of the vaccine at a scientific conference in Toronto of the American Society for Microbiology. The studies were done on couples where one partner had genital herpes but the other did not. The studies involved more than 2,700 individuals in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, and Canada.
Within these studies, the partners who were without genital herpes had never been contaminated with either HSV-2 nor HSV-1, while the other included those who had HSV-1, and never had HSV-2.
Throughout the 19 months of follow-up, it turned out that the vaccine did nothing to protect men in general or women who currently had HSV-1. Nevertheless, it was about 75 percent efficient in warding off herpes sores in women who never acquired both forms of the virus.
At least 3 percent obtained genital herpes after taking the vaccine, compared to 11 percent of those receiving dummy shots. Another 3 percent of those who had the vaccine became infected but never developed genital sores.
The researchers stated that being contaminated with HSV-1 may protect individuals from herpes, and the vaccine does little to increase this natural barrier.
Why the vaccine works only in women and not men remains unclear, although the researchers stated that it is probably due to the differences in sexual anatomy. Perhaps the vaccine enhances the immune system so it can attack the herpes infection while still in the vaginal area. It is, however, unable to stop the infection after it gains entrance to the bloodstream, passing through the tiny tears of the penis.
“The results are not exactly what we anticipated,” said Gary Dubin, who heads adolescent vaccine advancement for SmithKline Beecham in Belgium. He stated that the business is getting a reaction from regulators and public health authorities before, and they are still thinking of what to do next.
However, Spruance said that the vaccine could be used for women ages 10 to 13. At this age, he said, about half of the demographic have not been infected with either form of the herpes infection and so might respond to the vaccine.
Despite its disadvantages, the vaccine “really looks efficient. It seems possibly beneficial,” commented Dr. William Craig from the University of Wisconsin, and head of the conference program committee.
The vaccine is made from a protein drawn from the external surface of the herpes infection. It is integrated with a bacterial toxin that serves as a body immune system booster.