The average cost of genital herpes ranges between $23.77 and $818.06. Treatment of genital herpes refers to treating the symptoms and because there is no cure for genital herpes, treating symptoms is a continuous process. There are many additional costs to consider, including lab testing, antiviral medications, and preventative measures.
The Cost of Treatment
The cost of antiviral medication to treat genital herpes varies based on the specific antiviral you are prescribed and choose to use. The average cost of brand-name antiviral for a 30-tablet supply is $545.45, compared to $116.72 for generic retail prices. Valacyclovir appears to be the most expensive of the three antivirals, whereas Acyclovir is the least costly.
Cost Comparison of Brand-Name Vs Generic Antivirals
Brand Name Average Retail Price Based on First HSV-2 Episode Dosage CDC Recommendation Above
Generic Brand Average Retail Price Based on First HSV-2 Episode Dosage CDC Recommendation Above
What are the additional costs of treating Genital Herpes?
There are a few other costs to consider when estimating the cost of treating genital herpes. These include the initial STI testing and condoms as a barrier method to reduce the risk of STI transmission.
What factors Influence the Cost of Treating Genital Herpes?
One’s total cost of treatment will vary based on insurance status, the prescribed antiviral, where they receive their prescription, and planned sexual activity. It is important to remember that some people only take antiviral medication when actively experiencing an outbreak. In contrast, some continue to take the medication every day despite not currently experiencing an outbreak.
One’s prescriptions may or may not be covered depending on their insurance provider. If one has insurance that covers prescriptions, they will only have to worry about the co-pay. If one is not insured, they’ll be paying for the prescription out-of-pocket, and this price will fluctuate for many reasons, the main being where they’re picking up their prescription. Additionally, not all medications are covered on one’s insurance plan. It is important to speak with a representative about which medications are covered and which are not.
The cost of antivirals ranges between $23.77 and $818.06, based on the type of drug and if it is generic or brand name. The generic version of a prescription drug can sometimes cost up to 80 percent less than the brand-name version. Both will contain the same active ingredient and hold the same efficacy rates at treating conditions intended to treat. Generic drugs are evaluated by the FDA, just as brand-name drugs are. Other differences include inactive ingredients and appearance.
Where one gets their prescription filled could largely influence total costs. Without insurance, one will be paying out-of-pocket for their prescription. For this reason, it would be best to “shop” around to ensure one is getting the most affordable prescription option.
Try the MiraRX savings calculator to assist in locating the most affordable rates for one’s prescription. This tool will help one see the cost difference between pharmacies in specified locations. Many pharmacies will also have different promotions and memberships to help one obtain discounts for lower prescription costs.
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Planned Sexual Activity
The price of condoms should be considered when speaking about herpes. If one plans to be sexually active with known genital herpes, using this type of birth control is strongly recommended. The average cost for a single condom is $1; therefore, the total cost will depend on sexual activity over time.
What do I need to know about Genital Herpes?
It is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2), a type of Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) usually causes oral herpes and is markedly different from HSV-2.
Most HSV-2 infections are asymptomatic (showing no symptoms), but common symptoms of genital herpes can include:
- Pain or itching in the genital region
- Small red bumps or tiny white blisters
- Sores on the buttocks and thighs, anus, mouth, or urethra
- Sores on the vaginal area, external genitals, or cervix (women only)
- Sores on the penis or scrotum (men only)
Symptoms will manifest differently in different people and with each herpes outbreak. An outbreak refers to a noticeable flare-up of symptoms, usually referencing when sores appear as one or more blisters on or around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. There are two main types of herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. These are two different yet similar viruses. The table below gives an overview of the differences between HSV-1 and HSV-2, including transmission and defining symptoms.
The Difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2
Ease of Spread
Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, usually intimate contact. One can not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, hugging, swimming pools, etc. The virus can’t spread to areas of your body other than the skin of your mouth, penis, vagina, urinary tract opening, or anus. Additionally, one is no longer at risk of reinfection after their initial infection. If one has HSV-2, they will not get HSV-2 at another site in your body; the same goes for HSV-1 reinfection. However, if you contract HSV-1, you are still at risk of getting HSV-2.
One is most contagious during an outbreak when sores are present. However, it is essential to remember that one is still contagious even when no symptoms are visible. Although unlikely, both herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can infect either area (oral or genital regions). For example, one can get HSV-2 in their mouth if they perform oral sex on someone with HSV-2 on their genitals. The same goes for getting HSV-1 on their genitals if they receive oral sex from someone with HSV-1 in their mouth.
Once infected, the herpes virus stays present in one’s body forever. However, symptoms will usually come and go. HSV-1 and HSV-1 are most contagious during an outbreak when oral or genital sores are present, but again can be transmitted when no symptoms are present.
At the moment, there is no cure for the herpes viruses, but there are many ways to prevent outbreaks and reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to someone else. Aside from taking antiviral medicine, John Hopkins Medicine recommends:
- Taking antiviral medicine
- Informing your sexual partner that you have genital herpes
- Using a condom every time you have sex
- Not having sex during an outbreak (when you have symptoms)
- Not performing oral sex if you have blisters or open sores around your mouth
Antiviral medication is one of the best forms of treatment to reduce the risk of HSV-2 transmission. There are three major drugs commonly used to treat HSV-2 symptoms; all are taken in pill form, except for Acyclovir, an ointment. These effective antivirals include:
First HSV-2 Episode Recommended Dosages
Recurrent HSV-2 Recommended Dosages
|Acyclovir||Zovirax||400mg orally 3x/day for 7-10 days||400mg orally 2x/day|
|Famciclovir||Famvir||250mg orally 3x/day for 7-10 days||250mg orally 2x/day|
|Valacyclovir||Valtrex||1gm orally 2x/day for 7-10 days||500mg orally 1x/day|
*It is important to remember that these are recommended dosages to accompany the most commonly prescribed antibiotics. One’s doctor may recommend a different antiviral or dosage. Famvir has recently been discontinued; however, generic versions are still available.
Prevention and Safe Sex Practices
Prevention is the best form of treatment for genital herpes. Practicing safe sex is an effective practice for reducing the risk of one contracting HSV-2 and the risk of transmitting HSV-2 to someone else. One should always use condoms and dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal sex.
Condoms are referred to as the “barrier method” of birth control and prevent direct genital to genital contact. They reduce one’s risk of getting genital herpes if used the right way. It is imperative to not engage in sex during an outbreak, even if one uses a condom, as some sores may be exposed and not covered by the condom.
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Cost of Treating Genital Herpes Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Consider this information when considering the cost of treating genital herpes.
When should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor as soon as you suspect having genital herpes or any other sexually transmitted infection, for that matter. If you have had known skin-to-skin contact with someone with genital herpes, you should consider monitoring yourself for any symptoms and speak to your doctor to learn more about what to look out for and preventative practices. Maybe signs and symptoms to look out for a bring up to your doctor include pain, itching, tenderness in the genital region, or small white bumps or tiny blisters.
Am I infected with genital herpes forever?
Genital herpes is a lifelong infection that can consist of repeat outbreaks. However, the CDC cites these repeat outbreaks as “usually shorter and less severe than the initial outbreak.” One may also be infected with the virus but have it dormant in their body for years before experiencing any symptoms. When a virus lays dormant, there are no visible signs of the virus. This would mean that there are no noticeable symptoms of HSV-2. After the initial infection, you can experience an outbreak at any time. However, triggers such as an infection, a menstrual period, and stress can make outbreaks more likely to occur:
What is the difference between genital herpes and genital warts?
Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). A key characteristic of genital warts is a small bump(s) on the genitals, which can be confused with a similar symptom of genital herpes. Both can cause genital lesions, which is why it is important to bring symptoms to the attention of one’s doctor so that they may better diagnose you.
What happens if I don’t take antivirals for my herpes?
The HSV-2 virus will always live in one’s body, regardless of whether they are taking antivirals. However, taking antivirals reduces the risk of transmission to others and prevents and reduces herpes-related symptoms. If one stops taking their antiviral, they may have more frequent or more intense symptom outbreaks while also increasing the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
Treating genital herpes means reducing symptoms experienced and the chance of spreading it to others. Antivirals will be the highest cost when considering your total costs. The initial lab testing to confirm HSV-2 should also be factored in, and the price of condoms if one chooses to engage in safe sex. There is no cure for genital herpes, but that does not mean the quality of life can not be maintained or even improved. Genital herpes does not mean one can not engage in skin-to-skin or intimate contact with others, but preventative measures will need to be taken.
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Kendra Bean is from Maui, Hawaiʻi. She is currently enrolled at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, specializing in Epidemiology. She is passionate about improving health literacy and access to care, specifically in rural areas.