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How can I Deal with Herpes During Pregnancy?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Many women who have babies have herpes, since the rate of infection for genital herpes is about 25% of the female population. Herpes during pregnancy shouldn't be problematic if the mother and baby are given the proper care during delivery. There are precautions that should be taken to avoid transmitting the virus to a newborn during or after delivery when women have oral herpes. These precautions require careful adherence to avoid newborn infection. In adults, herpes virus is relatively minor, but in newborns it is an extremely serious disease.

The biggest concern exists if women acquire genital herpes during pregnancy, especially in its later stages. This causes a higher transmission rate to the newborn. To reduce risk, uninfected women who have an infected partner should avoid any sexual contact when the partner has an active infection and should also use barrier protection like condoms at all times. It’s possible to shed the herpes virus even when lesions aren’t present. The avoidance rule similarly applies if a partner has an oral herpes lesion (coldsore), and mouth to mouth/genital contact isn’t advised.

Even if a woman acquired herpes before pregnancy, doctors need to be vigilant during labor and delivery. The most significant risk of passing the infection to the fetus occurs if a woman has an active infection at the time of labor and delivery. Any newborn exposure to a lesion, such as by passing through the birth canal, creates the greatest risk.

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To combat this, doctors are likely to inspect the genital area for lesions, or if contraction of the disease was recent, they may forgo this step. With recent contraction or evidence of herpes lesions, the decision is often made to deliver the baby via c-section. This avoids exposing the newborn to the virus.

There is some argument on how often c-section is necessary when a woman has herpes during pregnancy. It’s certainly indicated with recent disease onset or evidence of present infection. It might also be suggested for those women who have a history of infections based on stress. Certainly, anyone without an active infection ought to look for early signs of one, like tingling of the skin, which usually precedes lesions by a couple of days and does indicate contagiousness.

Oral herpes during pregnancy is usually less concerning. Avoiding transmission to newborns means not kissing them when an active infection is present. Keeping the hands off the face and washing them carefully if the face is touched are additional preventatives.

Herpes during pregnancy can be potentially devastating when newborns are infected. It can cause mild rash to serious injury to the brain and blindness. While it’s possible to manage pregnancy with this illness, it’s important to follow guidelines. Doctors should be informed if a pregnant mother has herpes, if she has an infected partner, if she suspects a first outbreak, or if she believes she’s been recently exposed to the disease. The guidelines in place can then be used to determine how to best protect against newborn infection.

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