Herpes, Pregnancy and Your Baby

With or without symptoms, HSV-1 (oral herpes) does not cause a concern for a pregnant mom or her newborn when the infection site is around the mouth. HSV-1 and HSV-2 (genital herpes) can both cause pregnancy concerns when the infection site is located in the vagina. Genital herpes, usually herpes simplex 2 but occasionally herpes simplex 1 if transmitted through oral sex, can cause problems for a newborn during pregnancy in a few different ways.

Early and Late Pregnancy Infection

When a woman contracts herpes late in her pregnancy (the third trimester), this significantly raises the risk of passing herpes along to her newborn child. This is because herpes is the most contagious when it is in its earliest stages. This problem can be countered through conventional treatment methods if the pregnant mom-to-be and her doctor are aware of the issue. When herpes develops very early on during a pregnancy, the risk of passing it along to the child is lessened considerably. If a child does contract herpes during birth, this can lead to blisters and sores, infections of the skin, eyes and mouth, irritability and fever.

Pre-Pregnancy Infection

If a woman develops herpes before she becomes pregnant, there is a much lower risk of her child being born with herpes.

Neonatal Herpes

In about 1 out of every 10,000 global births, an infant whose mother has herpes will contract herpes in the genital tract during birth. As the statistic just mentioned indicates, this is a rare occurrence. However, when it does happen, neurologic problems can develop in the child, leading to poor cognitive function, muscle weakness, seizures, either partial or complete paralysis, unexplainable pain and difficult reading and writing. Death sometimes rarely occurs.

Disseminated Herpes

Roughly 1 in every 4 babies that get herpes during pregnancy will develop disseminated herpes. Typical herpes sores usually don’t appear, but this dangerous disease can negatively affect several organs, and often attacks the liver and the lungs. It must be diagnosed and treated immediately to prevent death, and long-term health problems if the child survives.

Nearly 500 million people around the world have been diagnosed with a herpes simplex 2 infection. Since women are more likely to contract this form of genital herpes and it is so common, there are very real pregnancy concerns to consider. If you are a woman who is pregnant or plans to become pregnant, talk with your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding herpes, pregnancy and childbirth. Knowing ahead of time how to properly prepare for a herpes complication during pregnancy could make this a nonissue for you and your newborn.

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