Past research has found that valacyclovir (brand name Valtrex) could suppress HIV in the lab. Now a new study has found that it can also suppress HIV in humans. Although these results are encouraging, the research team called for further studies.
Valacyclovir is an oral medication used to control genital herpes, commonly known as genital warts. Leonid Margolis, PhD, head of the Section on Intercellular Interactions at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, led this multinational study.
“These findings are very encouraging,” Dr. Margolis said in a press release. “If valacyclovir’s effectiveness against HIV can be confirmed in a larger cohort, it could be added to the mix of drugs used to suppress the virus, and might prove especially helpful in cases in which HIV has developed resistance to other drugs.”
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. People can contract HIV through unprotected sexual activity or contact with infected blood.
HIV is not AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
When a patient has HIV, it means he or she has been infected with the virus. Once infected, the patient has it for life.
The HIV virus slowly destroys the immune cells in the body. When the immune system is weakened and can’t fight infections, other viruses, bacteria and some cancers can cause the serious symptoms of AIDS.
Treatment for HIV involves suppressing the virus so the immune system can continue to handle infectious agents like other viruses and bacteria. Unfortunately, HIV tends to become resistant to these drugs, so a combination of meds is often most effective.
Tom Schnorr, RPh, CCN, owner of Apothecary Shop Pharmacy in Austin, TX, told dailyRx News that HIV patients can take steps beyond medication to boost their health.
"Reduce stress ... stop watching TV, fire the negative people in one's life, meditate, more time outside in nature, be gentle with oneself," Schnorr, who spent several years working in HIV/AIDS care, said. "Eat regular and more whole foods, no TV eating, no drivetime eating, reduce sugar intake ... viruses need sugar to replicate ..."
This new study was small — only 18 patients, all of whom had HIV. Dr. Margolis and team compared valacyclovir with a placebo, or fake drug.
For the first two weeks, half the group took valacyclovir and the other half took the placebo. Then the groups switched for two more weeks.
When patients took valacyclovir, the level of HIV in the patients’ blood dropped significantly, Dr. Margolis and team found. These researchers found that valacyclovir interfered with HIV's ability to reproduce.
Past studies suggested that valacyclovir worked when people had both HIV and the genital herpes virus. This was the first study to show that valacyclovir also worked on the HIV virus alone.
Although patients in this study did not become resistant to valacyclovir’s effects, Dr. Margolis and team noted that there was still a risk of resistance.
This study was published online in the March issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The Intramural Research Program of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Bench-to-Bedside Program and federal funds from the National Cancer Institute funded this research. Dr. Margolis and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.