OBJECTIVES: To summarise the current status of genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) vaccine development and provide a discussion of the potential benefits and limitations of genital herpes vaccines. METHODS: Literature review. RESULTS: Genital herpes simplex virus infection has a complex pathogenesis that has contributed to it becoming a serious worldwide problem. In an attempt to control the problem five different types of genital herpes vaccines have been developed. These include inactivated virion derived vaccines, adjuvanted subunit vaccines, vectored vaccines, replication limited live viral vaccines, genetically attenuated live viral vaccines, and nucleic acid vaccines. While available commercially in some parts of the world, inactivated virion derived vaccines have not been proved effective. Of the others, adjuvanted subunit vaccines, replication limited live viral vaccines, and nucleic acid vaccines are currently in clinical trials and vectored vaccines and genetically attenuated live viral vaccines are in preclinical development. CONCLUSION: With regard to HSV vaccines in general, it is reasonable to expect that the newer vaccines may protect the individual from developing symptomatic genital herpes but may not protect against asymptomatic viral infection. With widespread use HSV vaccines might help to prevent the spread of genital herpes.