Valacyclovir (Valtrex) vs. Acyclovir (Zovirax)
Acyclovir itself is poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract -- its oral bioavailability is 10% - 30%. In contrast, valacyclovir is more than 10 times more permeable than acyclovir. Valacyclovir's oral bioavailability is more than 60%, which allows comparable blood levels to parenteral acyclovir.
The main advantage of valacyclovir over acyclovir is convenience of less frequent dosing regimen. But it is quite more expensive than acyclovir.
The side effects of valacyclovir and acyclovir are similar. Toxicity is minimal, consisting largely of headache, nausea, and diarrhea.
Recurrent genital herpes
The study has demonstrated that
valaciclovir 500 mg twice daily is equivalent in efficacy to aciclovir
200 mg five times daily as episodic treatment of recurrent genital
HSV infection. Valaciclovir maintains the established efficacy and
safety of aciclovir but offers a much more convenient twice daily
dosing regimen. 1
First-episode genital herpes
Twice-daily valaciclovir is as effective and well tolerated in the treatment of first-episode
genital herpes as five-times-daily acyclovir. Valaciclovir provides
a useful alternative to acyclovir with the advantage of a more convenient
dosing regimen and the potential for improved compliance.2
Suppression of HSV shedding
Although the suppression of
viral replication is not complete, valacyclovir and acyclovir are
highly effective in suppressing the frequency and quantity of genital
HSV shedding. No significant differences in frequency and quantity
of HSV were detected by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) between the
valacyclovir and acyclovir. 3
Valacyclovir is superior to acyclovir in the treatment of herpes zoster. While both medications significantly
shorten the periods of acute pain, time to complete zoster rash crusting and resolution, valaciclovir significantly
accelerate the resolution of herpes zoster-associated pain compared
Studies5, 9 have shown an average reduction of the duration of pain from 60 days, as seen with acyclovir, to 40 days with valacyclovir. Reductions in pain were also noted at 6 months after healing of the rash, as only 19% of patients taking valacyclovir reported pain, compared to the 26% of patients taking acyclovir.
Recurrent herpes simplex virus eye disease
One-year suppression therapy with oral valacyclovir (500 mg tablet daily) is as effective and as well tolerated as acyclovir (400 mg tablet twice daily) in reducing the rate of recurrent ocular HSV disease8.
Post-transplantation cytomegalovirus prophylaxis
Valacyclovir appears to be more effective than acyclovir in preventing CMV reactivation
in bone marrow transplant recipients. 4
Valacyclovir (Valtrex) vs. Famciclovir (Famvir)
Famciclovir has superior biovailability (about 75%) compared to both acyclovir and valacyclovir.
Valacyclovir is comparable to famciclovir
in speeding the resolution of zoster-associated pain and
postherpetic neuralgia. Safety profiles for valacyclovir and famciclovir
are similar, with headache and nausea the most common adverse events 7.
Recent Japanese study10 found that famciclovir provides significantly
earlier reduction of acute pain in herpes zoster than valacyclovir.
Valacyclovir appears to be somewhat better than famciclovir for suppression of genital herpes and associated
- 1. Bodsworth NJ, Crooks RJ, Borelli S, Vejlsgaard
G, Paavonen J, Worm AM, Uexkull N, Esmann J, Strand A, Ingamells AJ,
Gibb A. Valaciclovir versus aciclovir in patient initiated treatment
of recurrent genital herpes: a randomised, double blind clinical trial.
International Valaciclovir HSV Study Group. Genitourin Med. 1997 Apr;73(2):110-6.
- 2. Fife KH, Barbarash RA, Rudolph T, Degregorio
B, Roth R. Valaciclovir versus acyclovir in the treatment of first-episode
genital herpes infection. Results of an international, multicenter,
double-blind, randomized clinical trial. The Valaciclovir International
Herpes Simplex Virus Study Group. Sex Transm Dis. 1997 Sep;24(8):481-6.
- 3. Gupta R, Wald A, Krantz E, Selke S, Warren
T, Vargas-Cortes M, Miller G, Corey L. Valacyclovir and acyclovir
for suppression of shedding of herpes simplex virus in the genital
tract. J Infect Dis. 2004 Oct 15;190(8):1374-81. Epub 2004 Sep 20.
- 4. Ljungman P, de La Camara R, Milpied N, Volin
L, Russell CA, Crisp A, Webster A; Valacyclovir International Bone
Marrow Transplant Study Group. Randomized study of valacyclovir as
prophylaxis against cytomegalovirus reactivation in recipients of
allogeneic bone marrow transplants. Blood. 2002 Apr 15;99(8):3050-6.
- 5. Lin WR, Lin HH, Lee SS, Tsai HC, Huang CK,
Wann SR, Chen YS, Chiang SC, Yen MY, Liu YC. Comparative study of
the efficacy and safety of valaciclovir versus acyclovir in the treatment
of herpes zoster. J Microbiol Immunol Infect. 2001 Jun;34(2):138-42.
- 6. Wald A, Selke S, Warren T, Aoki FY, Sacks
S, Diaz-Mitoma F, Corey L. Comparative efficacy of famciclovir and
valacyclovir for suppression of recurrent genital herpes and viral
shedding. Sex Transm Dis. 2006 Sep;33(9):529-33. PubMed
- 7. Tyring SK, Beutner KR, Tucker BA, Anderson
WC, Crooks RJ. Antiviral therapy for herpes zoster: randomized, controlled
clinical trial of valacyclovir and famciclovir therapy in immunocompetent
patients 50 years and older. Arch Fam Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;9(9):863-9.
- 8. Miserocchi E, Modorati G, Galli L, Rama P. Efficacy of valacyclovir vs acyclovir for the prevention of recurrent herpes simplex virus eye disease: a pilot study. Am J Ophthalmol. 2007 Oct;144(4):547-51. PubMed
- 9. Beutner KR, Friedman DJ, Forszpaniak C, Andersen PL, Wood MJ. Valaciclovir compared with acyclovir for improved therapy for herpes zoster in immunocompetent adults. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 1995;39:1546–53.
- 10. Ono F, Yasumoto S, Furumura M, Hamada T, et al. Comparison between famciclovir and valacyclovir for acute pain in adult Japanese immunocompetent patients with herpes zoster. J Dermatol. 2012 Nov;39(11)
Published: March 31, 2008
Last updated: November 05, 2013