Because of an editing error, too many disease were included in a lead sentence in Wednesday's Post saying herpes simplex virus, "producer of problems ranging from cold sores to chicken pox, from infectious mononucleosis to fatal infections, has been successfully suppressed in a test of a new antiviral drug" at John Hopkins. Chicken pox and monomucleosis are caused by other herpes viruses, not herpes simplex.
The ubiquitous herpes simplex virus, producer of problems ranging from cold sores to chicken pox, from infectious mononucleosis to fatal infections, has been successfully suppressed in a test of a new anti-viral drug.
This dramatic achievement of the new drug acyclovir, in 10 Johns Hopkins patients being treated for leukemia or severe anemia, could lead to far wider uses.
One use could against the heretofore unstoppable recurrences of genital herpes lesions, caused by a virus known as herpes simplex 2, that have been transmitted sexually to up to 20 million Americans, as many as 5 million in 1980 alone, according to the American Social Health Association. mThe babies of pregnant women who have active sores during delivery may develop fatal complications.
As many as 40 million Americans may have herpes simplex 1, which causes fever blisters and cold sores around the lips and inside the mouth.
"We have to be cautious in generalizing" and much work lies ahead, Dr. Rein Saral, director of the Johns Hopkins study, warned yesterday in Baltimore.
"But the potential is there," he said. "We've now seen something very dramatic in therapy where before we had nothing. This is one indication that we are now entering a new era of anti-viral therapy."
The Johns Hopkins study originally was to include 60 subjects, but the results were so dramatic that the test was halted after the first 20.
All the Johns Hopkins patients were leukemia or aplastic anemia victims whose immunological defenses had been impaired by chemotherapy or radiation, which is a prelude to bone-marrow transplants.
Such patients are particularly vulnerable to infections, including sometimes fatal herpes infections. About 70 per cent of such patients get infections and about 5 per cent are fatal, according to Saral.
The Saral group gave acyclovir to 10 men and women scheduled for bone-marrow transplants.Tests showed that all harbored herpes simplex virus, which typically remains present or "latent" for years and periodically may erupt to cause rashes or sores.
The doctors started the drug in these patients three days before the transplants and continued it for an additional 15 days. None of the patients broke out in herpes infections during this time.But 7 out of another 10 patients given a placebo or dummy compound developed sores or other signs of a herpes outbreak.
The drug did not eradicate the virus. Some of the acyclovir patients developed mild herpes infections after the drug was stopped.
More study is needed of the drug's possible side effects and an oral instead of an injectable form of the drug may have to be made for longterm use. i
Still, there now is at least a possiblitity of short-term use of the drug to prevent herpes infections in especially vulnerable persons and a hope, at least, of future long-term use in habitual herpes sufferers.
Another anti-virus drug, ara-A, is being used against herpes encephalitis, and has been effective in treating some other herpes infections. Still other drugs, including interferon, are being tried.
An article by the Johns Hopkins doctors appears in the current New England Journal of Medicine. In an editorial, Dr. James Overall Jr. of the University of Utah says anti-virus drug enthusiasts "have reason to hope that better treatment will soon tip the balance" against herpes viruses.