PURPOSE: To assess the effect of antiviral treatment on corneal graft survival following penetrating keratoplasty for herpetic keratitis. METHODS: Retrospective cohort study of 454 patients receiving primary penetrating keratoplasties (PKs) for viral infection reported to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) between April 1999 and June 2005. Follow-up data were available on 403 PKs. Kaplan-Meier survival estimates were used to determine graft survival for the three treatment groups: no medication, topical antiviral, and oral antiviral medication. A Cox regression model was used to investigate the combined effects of all additional factors on graft failure. The model was fitted using all pre-operative factors first and then post-operative factors including type of antiviral medication were included. RESULTS: Patients who received oral antiviral medication post-operatively had consistently better graft survival than those receiving no medication or only topical medication. Patients receiving oral antivirals were less than a third as likely to have a failed graft at 5 years compared with those on no antiviral medication (relative risk (RR) 0.3, CI: 0.2-0.7, P=0.002). Other factors that were found to influence the risk of graft failure were the presence of deep corneal vascularisation (P=0.009), PK performed for therapeutic reasons (P=0.03), large diameter grafts (P=0.04), and experiencing a rejection episode (P=0.003). CONCLUSION: Oral antiviral treatment reduces the risk of graft failure in patients undergoing primary PK for herpetic keratitis and should be routinely used in this group of patients post-operatively unless contra-indicated.