Womens Health

Transmitting Herpes During Pregnancy

Herpes in Pregnant Women

It is estimated that women are up to four times more likely to contract herpes simplex type 2 infection than men. While women who have genital herpes can still get pregnant and have children, the herpes virus can pose serious risks to the unborn child and to infants. Mothers-to-be and their partners who suspect that they might be infected should learn all they can about how to prevent passing herpes on to their baby.

How Herpes is Transmitted to a Baby

Pregnant women who suffer from herpes or who have their first herpes outbreak can easily infect their baby during delivery. Infected babies can suffer a range of difficulties, ranging from rashes on the skin, eyes, and mouth, to infection throughout the body, brain damage, premature birth or even death.

Therefore pregnant woman must take great care not to pass this contagious virus to their babies. In addition, herpes infections cause serious consequences to young infants, and thus anyone who is infected with herpes or has a cold sore should not be allowed to kiss a baby, and hands should be washed meticulously before touching a baby.

Risk Factors for Transmitting Herpes During Pregnancy

Whether or not a pregnant woman with herpes passes the virus on to her baby depends on certain risk factors.

A woman who has her very first outbreak of herpes in her third trimester or during labor has the greatest risk of transmitting infection to her baby. This is due to the fact that that the mother's immune system has not developed protective antibodies against the virus. On the other hand, a woman who has had recurrent outbreaks of herpes infections has had time to develop antibodies. In addition, she likely has been put on a drug protocol (intermittent treatment or suppressive treatment) that helps build antibodies, significantly lowering the risk of transmission to her infant.

Herpes-Related Recommendations for Pregnant Women

Some doctors advocate that all women and their partners should be tested for herpes before or when they get pregnant. It is also recommended that women who don't have herpes refrain from sex during their third trimester, especially if they don't know for sure if their partner is herpes free. Moreover, women who know they have suffered from herpes infections in the past, or who have a partner with a history of herpes, should be upfront about this and consult with their doctor even before getting pregnant so that he or she can help them safely manage the disease during pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman shows any signs of herpes symptoms before delivery, especially near the region of the birth canal, a cesarean section should be performed to deliver the baby.

Herpes Medications During Pregnancy

Herpes infections are treated with antiviral medications such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. While the jury is still out on whether or not it is safe to take herpes medications during pregnancy, to date acyclovir is considered the safest to use during pregnancy.

In addition, acyclovir is used to treat babies born with herpes. It is critical that babies be treated right away in order to prevent the infection from spreading to the brain and other organs.

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