Can having genital herpes harm my baby?

Q: What are the risks from having genital herpes during pregnancy? Will it hurt my baby?

A: Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted infection (it's estimated that 25 to 30 percent of women have it), caused by a group of viruses called herpes simplex. The most common signs are red, blistery sores around the vagina and anus, although sometimes the virus has no symptoms.

It's very unlikely that women who've contracted herpes before getting pregnant will pass the virus to their unborn babies. The risk is highest if you have an outbreak of sores during delivery. That's why many women in their last trimester are put on antiviral drugs, which can reduce the chances of an outbreak during labor. In some cases, your baby may have to be delivered by c-section to prevent infection.

Herpes can be more of a problem if it's contracted for the first time during pregnancy. Since your immune system has no antibodies built up against the virus, the risk of transmitting it to your baby is higher. If you're worried that you may be infected, watch for signs like blisters, as well as symptoms like fever, fatigue, swollen glands, and body aches. Your doctor can diagnose herpes by looking at the sores, taking a swab of the blisters, or doing a blood test. He or she will most likely prescribe antiviral drugs to ease the symptoms and reduce your risk of infecting your baby.

In the rare situation that a baby is infected with herpes, the most common problems, like skin or mouth sores or eye infections, can be treated safely with antiviral drugs. In very serious cases, the infection can cause brain damage if left unchecked.

Copyright 2009


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