Dealing with a cold sore or herpes outbreak while traveling:
Traveling can be stressful and airport delays, overnight flights and changing time zones often result in going long periods without enough sleep. These all add up to a weakened immune system and can lead to a herpes flair-up at the worst possible time: how embarrassing to meet the in-laws in the old country with a cold sore on your lip or have that romantic vacation ruined by a herpes outbreak?
If that wasn’t bad enough, ski vacations add another critical risk factor, exposure to strong UV at high altitude, intensified by reflections off snow. For many people this can lead to a predictable cold sore that makes a vacation a lot less fun. Nothing says ski bunny like a blistery white cold sore on the face.
Few over-the-counter medications are as effective as Acyclovir; chemically known as acycloguanosine (Zovirx) and common variants include Valacyclovir (Valtrex tm) and Famcyclovir (Famvir). Acyclovir is a prescription drug in the US and Canada and is normally prescribed with the patient has or expects an outbreak: but this is hard to predict when traveling and getting a prescription drug in a foreign country can be difficult and time consuming.
Fortunately, in many countries such as Italy, France, Britain, and (of course) Mexico both cream (usually 5%) is available over the counter without a prescription at far lower prices than prescription drugs in the US. In some countries (for example Mexico and Italy) pills are also available over the counter.
Mexico: along the Mexican/US border, especially in border towns like Tijuana, non-prescription pharmacies that cater to medical tourists pack the retail districts, crowding out even bars and souvenir shops. The buyer should beware of the quality of the product: shops that cater to tourists are not expecting return customers and have little incentive to manage quality carefully. While prices are very cheap, there’s some risk with a discount medication that you’re getting what you pay for. In non-tourist areas, pharmacies that cater to upscale Mexican citizens are still very affordable and are more likely to care about having customers come back healthy. In Spanish it is known as “Aciclovir,” though no translation is really necessary.
United Kingdom: In England Acyclovir is available in corner pharmacies as a cream in a standard 5% solution. It is meant only for “labial” applications – that is on the lips (facial).
France: Acyclovir cream is available in French pharmacies over the counter. The spelling is the same but the pronunciation is French and if your accent isn’t up to the task, write it down. The drug name on the package should be “Acyclovir,” everything else may be a bit hard to decipher.
Italy: In Italy both cream and pills are available. Pills in Europe tend to be slightly more expensive than the US for over the counter medications because European regulations require that the pills be individually packaged – no big bottles of aspirin. But US prescription drugs that are available over the counter in Europe are still far less expensive even with the premium packaging. Drugs in Europe tend to be even better regulated than in the US.