Herpes vaccines: give people hope for a cure and fast-track all candidate vaccines

Herpes vaccines: give people hope for a cure and fast-track all candidate vaccines

18 November 2020
Petition to
European Commission and
Signatures: 2,184Next Goal: 10,000
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Why this petition matters

We all know herpes, the famous "cold sore". But herpes is so much more than this and linked to many other conditions (blindness, Alzheimer's, HIV, neonatal herpes). Having herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) is very common. 3.4 billion people have HSV-1 and 500 million have HSV-2 (WHO figures). 

The Herpes Simplex Viruses (HSV), HSV-1 and HSV-2, are incurable, lifelong and extremely common with billions of sufferers worldwide. The current way herpes is dealt with for sufferers and their partners are inadequate and we need to demand more. Several vaccines and gene therapies are either already in Phase 1/2 or could be easily fast-tracked.

We have created this petition to show that there is demand for improvement and your signatures will help do this. We will present this petition to health and government officials, policy markers, regulators, and pharmaceutical companies worldwide to ensure they make this an urgent priority.

This petition addresses four pivotal aspects that need changing:

Testing: testing procedures are inadequate and lack accuracy.
Transmission: there is no effective way to completely prevent transmission.
Treatment: current treatments are ineffective, expensive, and cause serious side effects.
Cure: there is no cure, functional or sterilising, for HSV.

We want new developments in herpes simplex research to be fast-tracked, putting an end to the suffering of billions of people.

1. Background

Despite the prevalence of HSV many are not aware of their infection, the dangers and ease of transmitting the virus, and the additional health implications of contracting the virus. 

1.1 HSV-1

HSV1 is most commonly seen orally. The World Health Organisation estimates that 66% of the world’s population has HSV-1 (1). Whilst HSV1 ‘prefers’ the facial area, it can also occur genitally, on the eyes (herpes keratitis) and on the fingers or toes (whitlow). 

1.2. HSV-2

HSV2 is more commonly seen genitally. The World Health Organisation estimates that 13% of the world’s population has HSV-2 (1). Whilst HSV2 ‘prefers’ the genital area, it can also occur in the facial area, eyes (herpes keratitis) and on the fingers or toes (whitlow).

Despite the prevalence of herpes there are still no cures for the hundreds of millions of sufferers.

2. Testing: Current testing methods are not good enough.

Most people don’t know they have herpes. 80% of people with HSV are asymptomatic (i.e. do not show symptoms), have such minor episodes that they miss it, or may even mistake it for something else (3,4). 

Most medical practitioners do not know how to best test for HSV. Testing for HSV falls into the following categories:

Physical Examination: most commonly used and the least accurate; false positives accrue 20% of the time; the CDC recommends that all physical examinations are backed up with a laboratory test.

Swab Tests (there are various types of swab tests which are done when lesions are present, the two main ones are below):

- Viral Culture: A study found false negatives to occur 76% of the time  - i.e. results came back negative when it should have been positive (2);
- PCR: more sensitive than culture test but still returns false negatives.

Blood Tests: can tell whether you have had Herpes even if you have not had symptoms before. Can distinguish between HSV1 and HSV2, but can not tell you what part of the body you are infected (genital or oral);

Western Blot: type of blood test, good for testing long standing infections but is only available at The University of Washington. The only reliable blood test;
IgG - type of blood test, picks up HSV2 92% of the time, but misses 30% of HSV1. This test also gives off false positives.

There are further issues in that many believe that they are tested for HSV when they get a sexual health checkup. Even if you ask to be checked for everything, most of the time HSV is not included. 

We need better testing methods and greater availability of Western Blot to protect ourselves and our partners and help prevent transmission. 

3. Transmission: There is no way to fully protect yourself and others.

Most people do not know they have HSV and do not take the necessary precautions to prevent transmission. Even when someone is aware of their HSV status there is no way to fully protect against transmission. 

Most people contract oral HSV as children from their parents or close relatives. However, once contracted orally, HSV can then be transmitted to another person genitally by engaging in oral sex. In fact, 75% of new cases of genital herpes, in college students, are caused by oral sex (2).

Likewise, you can also contract HSV orally by engaging in oral sex with someone who has HSV genitally.

Even when there are no visible signs of blisters, transmission can occur. In fact, 70% of new infections occur in the absence of any visible symptoms (2). This is due to something called ‘asymptomatic shedding’. Essentially, the virus sheds in the region where you contracted it. For example, if you contracted it genitally then the shedding can occur in the ‘boxer shorts region’. If you contracted it orally then shedding occurs from the face. 

It is impossible to know (bar daily testing) when you are shedding and thus when you are contagious making transmission easier.

Furthermore, even when engaging in safe sex, HSV can still be passed on. The use of condoms reduces the risk of transmission for an infected man to an uninfected woman by 96%. Transmission from an infected woman to an uninfected man is only reduced by 30%-50% (2). 

We need better treatments and a cure to help protect ourselves and our loved ones from transmitting and contracting Herpes. 

4. Treatment and Cure: Why do we need better treatment and a cure?

4.1. Physical Symptoms

While many people infected with herpes simplex viruses are asymptomatic, for those who do develop symptoms, these are often severe. 

People with symptomatic HSV often have lesions which can cause debilitating pain. People that have it genitally may experience pain when urinating and walking, whilst people that have it orally may get painful cold sores. Some infected also complain of constant tingling or nerve pain which manifest as a pain down the leg, thigh, or glute (5). This physical pain from HSV can also re-occur very often, causing the infected person to go through this pain every month.

Typical Herpes symptoms go through 5 stages which can last up to two weeks (20):

Stage 1: Tingling and itching 24 hours before blisters

Stage 2: Fluid-filled blisters appear

Stage 3: The blisters burst, ooze and form painful sores

Stage 4: The sores dry out and scab over causing itching and cracking

Stage 5: The scab falls off and the cold sore heals 

4.2. Mental Health Implications

There are also serious mental health implications relating to HSV. The obvious ones of embarrassment are a common occurrence as well as newly infected people questioning whether they will be able to find a partner or form a relationship.

According to Doctor Hunter Handsfield (professor emeritus at the University of Washington), one of the greatest fears and anxiety inducing thoughts is transmitting the virus to a partner, or disclosing the virus to new partners (21). The mental implications of herpes  is corroborated in the literature which indicates HSV diagnosis can lead to depression, anger, lack of self-esteem and suicidal tendencies. (6, 7, 8).

A large-scale study showed an association between HSV  infection and the risk of attempting or committing suicide in an otherwise healthy population. People diagnosed with HSV  had a 1.40 times higher risk for suicidal behavior and a contributing causal factor for development of any psychiatric disorder (7).

Further, big data scientist, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, found that the number one search that people Googled before “how to commit suicide” was a health problem. The most common health problem searched? Herpes (8).

4.3. Gender and Social implications

Women are twice as likely than men to have HSV due to their anatomy. Studies show 1/5 women have HSV versus 1/10 in men (22). In 2016, The World Health Organization (WHO) showed that 313 million women were infected with HSV-2 versus 178 million men. African-American women are affected to an even greater extent with 1/2 infected with HSV (23)

The herpes virus disproportionately affects minority groups. The United States Center for Disease and Control (CDC) has listed that Non-Hispanic Black Persons live with the highest proportion of HSV-2, while Hispanic, namely Mexican-American individuals are the most prevalent carriers of HSV-1 (22).

Reasons for racial and ethnic disparities include lack of access to education, testing, treatment and healthcare. 

4.4. Additional health implications

Infection with HSV also puts people at risk of the following health conditions:

4.4.1. Neonatal herpes

A pregnant woman is at risk of passing Herpes to a newborn baby which occurs 1 in every 3,000/20,000 live births where the mother is infected (9). As a newborn’s immune system is not fully formed, the risk of contracting herpes can range from mild to severe and life-threatening (9, 10, 11).

4.4.2. Herpes Keratitis (ocular herpes)

The herpes virus can also infect the eye, which in severe cases can lead to scarring of the cornea or blindness. Herpes Keratitis affects approximately 10 million people worldwide, with 1.5 million new cases each year. Herpes Keratitis is the main cause of blindness from infections globally (12, 13).

4.4.3. HIV

There is an estimated 2- to 4-fold increased risk of acquiring HIV, if individuals with genital herpes infection are genitally exposed to HIV (14, 15, 16). Combating herpes could have a major impact in reducing the worldwide prevalence of HIV.  

4.4.4. Alzheimer's

There has been new research to indicate that herpes might cause Alzheimer's (17).

We need better treatments and cures, without which billions worldwide will continue to suffer in the above outlined ways.

5. Treatment: Current treatments are not good enough

Whilst there is no cure for herpes, there are treatments available to help prevent the recurrence of outbreaks and reduce, although not eliminate, shedding.

These include Acyclovir (Zovirax) available from 1982; and Valacyclovir (Valtrex) available from 1987; and Famciclovir (Famvir) available since 1994 but has since been discontinued (18).

These are all taken in pill form on a daily basis. The side effects can include, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, and skin sensitivity (24). 

Despite the advancement of modern day medicine it has been 30+ years since an effective drug to treat HSV has come out. Even The World Health Organisation (WHO) has outlined the need for better treatments and a cure (19).

We need better treatments to eliminate the physical and mental anguish for those infected and prevent transmission to uninfected people. 

6. Cure: There are no cures.

There are currently no cures for herpes. Once infected, you are infected for life.

Whilst there are pharmaceutical companies working on a cure this has also been the case for many years, often with new cures falling at the last hurdle.

We need a cure to end herpes once and for all.

7. Potential vaccines and gene therapies to be fast-tracked

There are several vaccines and gene therapies that are either in trials or close to being trialed. These include:

- HSV-529 vaccine being developed by Sanofi (soon in Phase 2);

- R2 and RVx-201 HSV-2 vaccines being developed by Rational Vaccines;

- GSK4108771A vaccine being developed by GlaxoSmithKline (in Phase 1);

- Gene therapy being developed by Dr Jerome at the Fred Hutchinson Center; and

- Gene therapy being developed by Dr Friedman at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with BioNTech.

Too often potential vaccine and cure candidates have fallen by the wayside. We need to ensure these treatments and cures are not only considered important by the pharmaceutical companies developing them, but encourage government officials and other organisations like WHO and CDC to actively help drive these forward.

8. Summary

Herpes affects billions of people globally. It has dire physical and mental health implications. It has further health implications for those infected.

There is no way to prevent transmission of herpes, there are no adequate treatments and there is no cure.

This petition will help put pressure on the relevant public and private organisations to help push towards an end to herpes and request them to speed up the development and commercialisation of all potential vaccines and gene therapies so we can help bring the suffering endured by those with herpes to an end quickly. 

As stated by Dr Meg Doherty, Director of the WHO, better treatment and a cure for HSV would  “protect the health and well-being of millions of people, particularly women, worldwide”. (19)

Giving these vaccines and therapy the last push comes at no cost and will do so much good. Please help yourself and help many others: sign this petition. 

Thanks a lot for your support!

#herpesvaccines2021 #HSVfreeworld 

Other petitions: 

- Please also see the petition launched by Herpes Cure Research on HSV-259 being developed by Sanofi and feel free to sign it as well! 

- Please also see the petition launched by Rich Mancuso on Theravax / RVx-201 HSV-2 being developed by Rational Vaccines and feel free to sign it as well! See also his testimonial on this vaccine here




Support now
Signatures: 2,184Next Goal: 10,000
Support now