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Herpes Labialis: An Update

[ Vol. 11 , Issue. 2 ]


Alexander K.C. Leung* and Benjamin Barankin   Pages 107 - 113 ( 7 )


Background: Herpes labialis is characterized by recurrent vesicular eruptions primarily on the lips and perioral skin. The condition is contagious, can cause significant discomfort/pain, and can have an adverse effect on the quality of life.

Objective: To update the evaluation and treatment of herpes labialis.

Methods: A PubMed search was completed in Clinical Queries using the key term “herpes labialis”. Patents were searched using the key term “herpes labialis” from

Results: The diagnosis of herpes labialis is mainly clinical based on classic grouped lesions (papules, vesicles, ulcers) on the lip. Antiviral therapy shortens the duration of pain and discomfort, hastens healing, and reduces viral shedding. Thus, episodic treatment is warranted, especially if the patient desires treatment for cosmetic purposes or for relief of pain. Such treatment needs to be initiated promptly, ideally in the prodromal stage and no later than 48 hours from the onset of lesions to achieve optimal results. Chronic suppressive therapy with oral antiviral agents should be considered for patients with severe or frequent (six or more episodes per year) recurrences. Recent patents related to the management of herpes labialis are also discussed.

Conclusion: For episodic treatment, oral antiviral agents, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex) and famciclovir (Famvir), are superior to topical antiviral therapy. Valacyclovir and famciclovir have greater oral bioavailability and are better absorbed than acyclovir, require less frequent dosing, but are more expensive and are not approved for children. Topical antiviral agents such as 5% acyclovir cream/ointment (Zovirax) ± hydrocortisone (Xerese), 1% penciclovir (Denavir) cream, and 50 mg Buccal Adhesive Tablet (ABT-50 mg) can also be used for episodic treatment of herpes labialis. These topical agents are not effective in the prevention of recurrent herpes labialis. For chronic daily suppressive therapy, oral antivirals are the treatment of choice.


Acyclovir, famciclovir, lip, papules, penciclovir, valacyclovir, vesicles.


Department of Pediatrics, The University of Calgary, Alberta Children's Hospital, Calgary, Alberta, Toronto Dermatology Centre, Toronto, Ontario

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