Herpes and Pregnancy

In this article, I provide a comprehensive list of questions and answers regarding herpes and pregnancy. Understanding herpes is your key to control the disease. The following is a question and answer summary.

How is oral herpes usually acquired?

Most primary cases of oral herpes are seen in young children. Children get this form of herpes from the active cold sores of adults and older children who care for or play with them. Direct contact, often momentary, is all that is necessary to pass the virus. Most cases of oral herpes in adults are reactivations of latent infections that were acquired in childhood.

Can partners reinfect each other?

Yes. Practice prevention just as though only one of the partners has herpes.

Do condoms prevent infection?

Not in all cases. Avoid sex active episodes.

What kind of infection in a pregnant woman is dangerous?

Genital herpes, especially a first infection.

Why is a primary case of genital herpes in a pregnant woman risky?

During a primary infection, the amount and duration of virus production are considerable. Therefore, there is greater opportunity for the virus to linger in the mother’s genital area or to form a large potential to spread.

What happens if a woman gets genital herpes late in her pregnancy?

herpes and pregnant

If the mother’s primary infection occurs during the last three months of pregnancy, there is a possibility that the virus will remain in the genital tract up until the time of birth. If so, the child would be born through an infected birth canal and might become infected during delivery.

The baby should not be infected through the mother’s bloodstream, but if the bag of waters is ruptured during either a primary case or a recurrence, the virus may ascend the vaginal canal and infect the unborn child. The risk is greater during a primary case because of the greater amount of virus present. If HSV is present in the genital tract of a pregnant woman near the time of delivery, her physician usually will plan a Caesarean section.

What may happen to an infant that is born from an infected mother?

The newborn may contract a very serious infection that could include widespread skin eruptions, internal organ involvement, and damage to the nervous system leading to mental retardation or death.

Can I have sex during pregnancy?

Some doctors will advise abstinence during the last six weeks of pregnancy, just to be safe. Also, if the spouse has either a primary episode or a recurrence in the last six weeks, intercourse should definitely be avoided to prevent transmission of the virus to the expectant mother.

Is a recurrence as serious as a primary case when delivery is near?

The amount of virus produced in a recurrence is much less than in a primary episode, and the time of viral shedding is much shorter. However, if a recurrence occurs near the time of delivery, active herpes virus may still be present in the birth canal when the baby is ready to be born, and the baby can become infected just as if the episode were a primary one. The attending physician will test the area for virus and make the appropriate decision at that time.

Can recurring cervical sores spread up into the uterus?

There is no proven medical evidence that recurrences in the cervix can spread to the uterus.

What can a woman do to prevent congenital herpes?

If a pregnant woman or her sexual partner has or has had genital herpes, she should inform her doctor. Some babies with congenital herpes are born to women with no symptoms of the disease. It is important to remember that infection in a partner may lead to congenital herpes even when the mother has never had any symptoms of the disease. Once informed, the physician can monitor the mother for the presence of herpes simplex virus throughout the pregnancy, and plan the best care for her and her baby.

What effect does maternal oral herpes have on the fetus?

Probably none. In HSV-1, the site of viral multiplication is present around the mouth region. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that the virus could ever spread to the unborn child. During the first few months of life, however, the newborn is very susceptible to developing a more virulent type of the disease that is the older child or adult and may be at risk from herpes anywhere on the mother’s body.

The mother or anyone with HSV-1 should avoid kissing or fondling the newborn. Make sure to carefully wash your hands before handling the baby.

What is the relationship between herpes and cancer?

The relationship is not clear. Data suggest that women who have had HSV-2 have a higher risk of getting cervical cancer. Women who have had genital herpes should get a Pap smear twice a year.

Is there a connection between HSV-2 and cancer in the male?

To date, there has been no proven connection between genital herpes in men and urogenital cancer.

Can HSV-2 lead to herpes encephalitis?

No. It is a rare, often fatal, condition in which HSV infects the brain and spinal cord.

Does dye-light therapy work as a treatment?

Several years ago, the dye-light method was a popular treatment. It involved painting herpes sores with a specific dye and then exposing the painted area to light for short periods of time. When tested in a double-blind clinical trial, it was found no more effective than the control procedure. Also, scientists were concerned that the dye-light method might produce defective herpes viruses which, in turn, could possibly lead to cancerous changes in treated cells.

Are the treatments that are advertised in magazines worthwhile?

No. They will not only fail to cure it but some of them could be dangerous to your health. Zovirax, the new antiviral agent, is the only drug approved by the FDA. It will reduce viral shedding and may decrease the duration of sores. It will not affect the virus in the latent form nor will it prevent recurrences.

The key to control of the virus is prevention and thorough understanding. Practice good hygiene and the potential for complications are minimal.

Herpes Question and Answers
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Herpes Question and Answers
The following is a question and answer summary on herpes and pregnancy. Understanding herpes is your key to control the disease.