Present strategies for control of herpes genitalis recurrences require multiple daily doses of antiviral medication. Imiquimod, an immune response modifier, induces alpha interferon and interleukin-12; application in the presence of local herpes antigens during a recurrence may augment herpes simplex virus (HSV)-specific cell-mediated immunity. To test this theory, we performed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of imiquimod 5% cream to assess safety and efficacy for decreasing recurrences. Patients with six or more recurrences of herpes genitalis per year applied study cream (imiquimod or placebo) to lesions one, two, or three times per week for 3 weeks for each recurrence during a 16-week treatment period. This was followed by a 16-week observation period. Of 124 patients randomized to the study, 103 completed the treatment period and 93 completed the observation period. The median times to first genital herpes recurrence were 53 days for those receiving placebo (n = 30) and 54, 60, and 64 days for those receiving imiquimod one time per week (n = 34), two times per week (n = 32), and three times per week (n = 28), respectively. The median annualized recurrence rates during the treatment period were 3.8, 4.9, 3.2, and 3.1, respectively. There were no statistically significant differences in the time to first recurrence or in the annualized recurrence rate between the imiquimod and placebo groups in either the treatment or the observation period. A trend in increased rates of local adverse events at the application site and a delay in lesion healing with more frequent dosing suggested a pharmacologic effect. Although clinical efficacy has been observed for imiquimod in other conditions in which a TH1-type immune response may be beneficial, including other viral infections such as those caused by human papillomavirus, no apparent effect on the short-term natural history of herpes genitalis recurrences was observed.