Herpes & Pregnancy

genital herpes pregnancyIf an individual is pregnant, it is important to tell the doctor that HSV is present. If the individual has had unprotected sex and is unsure, testing for HSV is recommended by healthcare professionals. Watch for signs and symptoms of genital herpes during pregnancy.

A doctor may recommend that the individual start taking herpes antiviral medications when they are about 36 weeks pregnant to try to prevent an outbreak from occurring around the time of delivery. If the individual is having an outbreak when they go into labor, the doctor will probably suggest a Caesarean section to reduce the risk of passing the herpes virus to the baby.


Potential Pregnancy Complications

The chance of a pregnant woman passing herpes to her baby is highest if the first infection occurs near the time of delivery. The virus can be transmitted to the fetus through the placenta during pregnancy or during vaginal childbirth.

First-time infection during pregnancy leads to an increased risk of miscarriage, decreased fetal growth, and preterm labor. About 30-50% of infants who are born vaginally to a mother with first-time infection become infected with the herpes virus. Of babies born to women experiencing recurrent outbreaks at the time of birth, one to four percent become infected with the genital herpes-simplex virus.

All herpes viruses can be passed from mother to baby. The chance of giving herpes to the baby is highest if the first infection occurs near the time of delivery. The virus can be transmitted to the fetus while in-utero (inside the womb) or during passage through an infected vagina at birth.

If a woman is having an active outbreak of genital herpes at the time of delivery, the baby will usually be delivered by cesarean section to prevent transmission of herpes. Of infants infected with herpes at birth, 30-60% die within the first month. Survivors may have long-term complications such as mental retardation and seizures.


Transmission Prevention

To prevent transmission of herpes to their babies, pregnant women should discuss any past history of herpes with their healthcare providers and take adequate measures to prevent infection during pregnancy.

The risk of herpes can be reduced during pregnancy by avoiding sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, and oral) during the last three months of pregnancy if the partner is known to have or suspected of having genital herpes and avoiding receptive oral sex during the last three months of pregnancy if the partner is known to have or suspected of having herpes sores on the mouth, tongue, gum, or lips.

A vaccine in clinical trials is being tested in women who have not been infected with herpes simplex virus (HSV). The vaccine is named Herpevac®, and may become available for prevention of genital and oral herpes infections.


Selected References

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National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. www3.niaid.nih.gov. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com. Copyright © 2009. Accessed April 4, 2009.
Singh BB, Udani J, Vinjamury SP, et al. Safety and effectiveness of an L-lysine, zinc, and herbal-based product on the treatment of facial and circumoral herpes. Altern Med Rev. 2005;10(2):123-7.
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World Health Organization. www.who.int. Accessed April 4, 2009.
VZV Research Foundation. www.vzvfoundation.org. Accessed April 4, 2009.