How May Herpes Simplex Affect Pregnancy?

The Affects of Herpes Simplex

The herpes simplex virus is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can be found to cause sores on the face and lips (also known as cold sores) or sores on the genitals (genital herpes).

Herpes simplex virus type I is the usual cause of facial herpes, and herpes simplex virus type II is the usual cause of genital herpes. However, due to the contagion factor of both types of herpes simplex virus, one can also infect either part of the body. It can even infect a newborn baby.

How Herpes Simplex Can Spread To an Infant

The herpes simplex virus can be spread to a newborn infant by one of three ways:

  • If the virus is present in the birth canal during the delivery phase.
  • The virus can be spread to the baby if they are kissed by someone infected from cold sores.
  • In more rare instances, the herpes simplex virus can be spread by touching an active cold sore then makes physical contact with the baby.

The Harm of Herpes Simplex Viruses

If a woman has genital herpes before getting pregnant, there is a low risk of a baby becoming infected is very low, even if an outbreak occurs. A womans body develops antibodies that are passed on to a baby during pregnancy, which will allow baby immunity for up to three months. Infection during a first or second trimester presents a risk to a developing baby. The infection has been linked to miscarriage, growth retardation, underdeveloped brains, or fluid build up in brains.

Prevent Transmitting the Herpes Simplex Virus to Babies

For those recently infected with herpes simplex virus, one way to minimize virus exposure to a baby is to plan a caesarean section, particularly if you have your first outbreak in the last six weeks of pregnancy. If vaginal delivery is still chosen, an obstetrician will try to avoid any invasive procedures such as ventouse or forceps, as these may leave a scratch, allowing a possible entry for the virus.

Mothers will be given intravenous acyclovir during labor and delivery, reducing the risk of a baby catching herpes. In addition, the newborn baby will also be given acyclovir. If this is not a mothers first outbreak, acyclovir may be given daily for the last four weeks of pregnancy. At this point, a caesarean for the baby may not be advised as they will likely have immunity to the virus.

Additional Care

For those mothers that are curious about the possibility of breastfeeding even with herpes simplex virus, the infection is not transmitted through breast milk. This should not prevent a mother with herpes from breastfeeding, provided there are no sores on the breasts.

Also, make sure to cover any sores on the body and to wash hands frequently and carefully. If taking acyclovir, it can be found in breast milk, though it is not considered harmful. There are no foolproof methods to avoid catching herpes, so if pregnant, be particularly careful when dealing with a partner who does have the disease. While condoms may help to reduce the risk, sex may be avoided altogether for the best prevention of speaking an outbreak.


Photo Credit: bobhouser

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