Genital Herpes and Pregnancy

The Need for Medical Treatment

The sexually transmitted disease, genital herpes, can have an overwhelming and destructive impact on the health of newborn babies.  Even though many women with genital herpes give birth to healthy babies, there is still a number who pass the virus on to their babies during labour and delivery.  

It is, therefore, very important for women who are pregnant to be able to recognize the symptoms of genital herpes and, if they think they could be infected, to seek immediate medical treatment.  It is advisable for women to apprise their medical care provider if they have had herpes, or any other sexually transmitted diseases in the past so the provider can do what is necessary to protect both mother and baby.

The herpes simplex virus is similar to the one that causes chickenpox and shingles and after the initial infection; the virus has the capacity to hide within the nerve cells where the immune system of the body cannot find it.  Given the right conditions, the virus becomes active again. FOr this reason, it is extremely important that pregnant women seek the proper help and cures for herpes.

Types of Herpes Virus and Triggers

There are two main types of herpes simplex viruses:  Type 1, which is normally associated with cold sores around the mouth and lips and Type 2, usually associated with genital sores.  Either type of herpes can infect oral or genital areas or, if a pregnant woman has genital sores caused by either type of virus, the disease can be passed to her baby.  There are many triggers for an outbreak of herpes sores, among them: heat, menstruation, fever, stress, or sexual intercourse.  Outbreaks can occur as frequently as four or five times a year.

Transmission Of Herpes to Babies and Children

Transmitted by direct contact with an infected person, genital herpes can be contracted through intercourse or oral-genital contact.  Unwashed hands are the perfect vehicle to spread the virus from one part of the body to another.  Children are frequently infected with Type 1 herpes in their early years, often by something as simple as a kiss from an infected adult or with virus-containing saliva.  A person with herpes should not be allowed to kiss children, especially newborns.

Women with first-time herpes, having acquired the disease near the time of delivery, have a 30 to 50 percent chance of infecting their babies during a vaginal delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, whether or not they have symptoms. 

The risk is high because she hasn't had time to produce the anti-bodies necessary to fight the disease.  Testing and the use of the properly prescribed medications can lessen the effects of genital herpes on pregnant women.

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