Is Zovirax the Best Treatment for Herpes?

Zovirax is one of many medications used to treat herpes.

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is spread through oral, anal, or vaginal sex. It often results in the following symptoms:

  • Pain during urination
  • Vaginal discharge that is atypical from what you normally see
  • Blisters that leave red sores in the genital area after bursting
  • Itching, burning, or tingling in the genital area

Oral herpes is generally evidenced by cold sores around the mouth.

Patients who believe they have contracted herpes should visit a doctor for treatment. NHS reports that there is no cure for herpes, but symptoms can be managed via medications like Zovirax. (Learn More)

Antiviral medications are commonly prescribed for herpes, and they should be taken within five days of experiencing the first symptoms. They manage symptoms and prevent them from becoming worse.

Besides Zovirax, other options are Famvir, Valtrex, and Abreva (available over the counter). (Learn More) Topical ointments can soothe pain and make you comfortable

Your doctor can help you determine which medication is the best treatment for you. (Learn More)

talking to doctor

How Zovirax Works

Zovirax is the brand name for acyclovir, an antiviral that is often prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with oral and genital herpes. According to Mayo Clinic, this medication can be used for other inflictions, such as shingles, chickenpox, and herpes that appears in newborns.

This prescription medication is available in the following forms:

  • Capsule
  • Tablet
  • Suspension
  • Solution
  • Powder

Patients With Allergies and Other Specific Needs

pregnant woman

Discuss any allergies you have with your doctor before starting Zovirax. Certain demographics have special considerations when using the medication.

  • Children: So far, evidence shows that Zovirax can be used in children, and it can be equally effective in treating herpes in them. Some side effects could be intensified in children.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: More data is needed to determine whether Zovirax will harm a fetus if a pregnant woman takes it. For now, research has not found that Zovirax is harmful to a fetus. Studies also show that patients who breastfeed can probably continue taking Zovirax.
    MedlinePlus emphasizes that patients who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should discuss this with their doctor.
    Other sources say that Zovirax is not recommended for patients who are pregnant. With this conflicting information, it is always best to defer to your physician.
  • Senior citizens: Older patients may be more sensitive to some of Zovirax’s effects. Patients may experience dizziness, sleepiness, or agitation as the drug affects the central nervous system (CNS).

Alert your doctor if you have any conditions that may weaken your immune system, including HIV/AIDS.

How to Take Zovirax

The oral forms of Zovirax (tablet, capsule, solution) are often taken with a glass of water and can be taken on an empty stomach or with food.

If you use the ointment or cream, make sure you only use it externally and on the parts of the skin affected by a herpes rash. MedlinePlus suggests that you:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Clean the part of your skin where you will apply the medication.
  • Apply the medication onto the parts of your skin where sores have formed or look like they may form.
  • Massage the cream into your skin until it is gone.
  • Do not use bandages or dress your skin unless your doctor has instructed you to do this.

Zovirax Side Effects

Commonly reported side effects of Zovirax are:

  • Stinging at the site of application.
  • Swelling or irritation where you have applied the ointment.
  • Cracked lips.

Other Common Medications for Herpes

Zovirax is only one of many options available for herpes, but it is not the only medication available. Other options are:

  • Abreva (Docosanol). In June 2012, the U.S. Pharmacy Times reported this is the only over-the-counter medication that has been approved to treat oral herpes. Mayo Clinic says that Abreva is an antiviral cream and meant for use during the first signs of a herpes outbreak. Adolescents and adults should rub the cream onto the affected area five times per day until the cream disappears. Children under 12 should only use this medication under the supervision of a doctor.

Common side effects are:


  • Itching
  • Acne
  • Burning
  • Skin soreness
  • Headaches

Patients should also look out for interactions and contact a physician if they take other medications while they use Abreva (docosanol).

  • Valtrex (Valacyclovir). This prescription medication can treat the following conditions, according to Mayo Clinic:
  • Shingles
  • Cold sores
  • Genital herpes

The medication can manage these conditions and speed the healing process.

Children under 12 should be carefully monitored as more studies are needed to understand whether or not the medication is safe for them. Patients with kidney disease, HIV, or who are older may also be given special consideration, such as adjustments in their dosage.

Per Mayo Clinic, it is best to use Valtrex within 24 hours of any new herpes outbreaks or within 48 hours of a new outbreak. The medication can be taken on an empty stomach or with food.

Patients are urged to drink more water when taking Valtrex to assist with urine production and ease any possible strain on the kidneys. It is imperative to keep taking Valtrex as your doctor instructed, even if sores dissipate before then.

  • Famvir (famciclovir). As MedlinePlus reports, Famvir is approved to treat shingles and repeat oral or genital herpes virus outbreaks in people with normal immune systems. The medication is available as a tablet and can be taken on an empty stomach or with food.

The medication can only be used with a prescription.

Famvir is often taken as follows:

  • Within three days of the appearance of a new herpes rash
  • Every eight hours for seven days (three times daily)
  • Twice daily for one year in order to prevent further outbreaks

Let your doctor know if you have an allergy to lactose or allergies to any other herpes medication such as acyclovir.

Patients should communicate if they are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. You should also tell your doctor if you become pregnant during your treatment with famciclovir.

Like other medications, you may experience side effects when taking Famvir.

  • Fatigue
  • Painful periods (in women)
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Itchiness

The use of Famvir is also associated with some serious side effects, such as numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. If you experience this, call your doctor immediately. Famvir can be taken as a preventative medication.

Which Is the Best Choice?

Ultimately, your prescribing doctor will take various factors into account when deciding which medication you should take to treat herpes.

Zovirax is popular because it is available in various forms, and it is effective when taken as directed.

At-Home Supportive Care

Along with prescription medication, there are other things you can do to manage herpes.

  • Apply cold compresses. These can decrease pain in the area experiencing blisters.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands before using a cream or ointment, and make sure your sores are clean.
  • Do not scratch. This can aggravate your skin and cause infection if your hands are not clean.
  • Control your stress levels. Stress can compromise your immune system and slow the healing process.

cold sore

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes herpes?

Herpes is the colloquial name for the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Oral herpes, known as cold sores, is caused by the HSV-1 virus. Genital herpes is caused by the HSV-2 virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that HSV-1 can be transmitted through oral contact. It may cause sores around the mouth and in the genital area.

HSV-2 infections, known as genital herpes, are sexually transmitted through oral, vaginal, or anal contact.

Can a herpes infection be prevented?

If you have oral herpes (HSV-1), WHO recommends that you abstain from oral sexual contact when experiencing an outbreak. You can reduce the likelihood of infecting others by not sharing items, such as cups, that have your saliva on them.

To prevent infecting someone with genital herpes (HSV-2), use sexual barrier protection methods, such as condoms and dental dams. Avoid sexual contact when you are having an outbreak.

Women who are pregnant should let their doctor know if they have herpes in order to prevent passing it on to a newborn during birth.

How will Zovirax affect me?

Zovirax speeds the healing of sores caused by herpes and can make you feel more comfortable. You may experience side effects, such as headache or stomach pain.

Some patients have also reported more severe side effects, such as fatigue, lightheadedness, and even trembling when using Zovirax. Talk to your doctor if you experience side effects.


Acyclovir (Oral Route, Intravenous Route). (May 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Management of Cold Sores by Prescription. (June 2012). Pharmacy Times.

Genital Herpes. (January 2018). National Health Service.

Acyclovir Topical. (June 2016). MedlinePlus.

Effective Treatments for Herpes. (May 2019). Verywell Health.

Docosanol (Topical Route). (February 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Famciclovir. (December 2017) Medline Plus.

Valacyclovir. (February 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Herpes Simplex Virus. (January 2017). World Health Organization.

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