The combination of genital herpes and pregnancy may increase the risk of infection to the baby during labor or delivery process. Although the incidence of genital herpes and pregnancy related transmission of infection is rare, the complications may be very devastating for the newborn whenever it occurs. If you merely have a history of genital herpes, you needn’t worry because it poses no feasible risk to your pregnancy.
The risk of transmission of infection is higher in any expecting mom who contracted the infection for the first time during pregnancy, and the rate of transferability is higher if a pregnant woman has active infection at the time of delivery.
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV-1 and 2) is the cause of genital herpes infection.
HSV 1 causes infection in mouth, throat and oral cavity. It’s transmitted merely by kissing or oral contact but Herpes Simplex Virus 2 is responsible for herpes in the genital tract, and it’s transmitted via direct physical contact during sexual intercourse with an infected person. In some rare cases, oral sex performed by a person infected with HSV 1 may also lead to genital herpes in pregnancy.
Once you contract herpes infection from an infected person, the HSV virus divides inside the body and within 2 weeks, the newly infected person develop red raised bumps on the parts of genital tract that enlarge and then rupture forming painful open sores around your sex organs. Along with pain and burning, you may also experience tingling, bleeding or increase in vaginal discharge.
The most popular symptom of genital herpes is lesions that blister and spread around the genital tract of the body. Other symptoms include:
It’s possible that the rupturing of the membrane in an infected pregnant woman put the fetus at risk, as the infection may also travel upward into the uterus. Exposure to genital herpes during or after childbirth may lead to herpes infection in the baby. Most babies who are born to infected moms do well in their later life, only a small percentage develop recurrent attacks of the infection.
Herpes virus can stay in one’s body after a primary infection and most women who suffer from herpes have recurrent bouts of herpes infection until proper anti-viral therapy is taken. Any woman who develops primary infection during pregnancy can even transmit infection to the baby via placenta before childbirth. In any such case, the risk of congenital malformation in the baby is very high.
In case of active herpes infection during third trimester, it’s generally advised vaginal delivery is avoided to prevent your baby from getting infected when passing through infected birth canal. Cesarean section is the most preferred delivery option in all such instances.
However, in case you don’t have an active infection or perhaps you develop infection before third trimester of pregnancy and there may be no risk of impending active outbreak. In the absence of any active lesions in the birth canal and if it’s a recurrent infection, the risk of viral transmission to the baby is less than 1% and safe vaginal delivery is possible.
If you develop active lesions or outbreak of genital herpes during third trimester of pregnancy, your doctor may also prescribe you anti-viral therapy to control the infection.
Some studies have established that acyclovir medication in the last month of pregnancy helps to lower the risk of active herpes infection during childbirth, especially in women with a history of genital herpes recurrence. That’s why some physicians administer antiviral medications starting from 36 weeks until full term to avoid active herpetic recurrence at delivery.
Even after birth, babies are still vulnerable to contract herpes from an infected person. Maintain cleanliness and avoid letting anyone touch your baby with unclean hands. Avoid nursing the baby if you have a lesion on your breast.
Before making the decision of mode of childbirth for an expecting mom, who has a history of positive genital herpes, it’s important to examine vagina, cervix and all other visible parts of birth canal for active genital herpes during pregnancy.
Moreover, if you develop any illness such as genital herpes during pregnancy, report to your healthcare provider for necessary anti-viral medications.
In case your partner ever had the history of genital herpes, minimize sexual contact during third trimester and get yourself checked for antibodies against herpes infection (in case you’re silently infected as a lot of women never develop any symptoms in the presence of viral infection).
Even if you’ve antibodies against herpes infection or you’re infected, start prophylactic anti-viral therapy during the last few weeks of third trimester to avoid deadly combination of genital herpes in pregnancy.
If you contracted genital herpes before pregnancy, which is the case for many infected women, the risk for your baby is very low. And the risk of infection by your baby can be further reduced with right medication.
When there are indications or symptoms of active genital herpes infection at the time of labor and delivery, most doctors advise the option of cesarean section childbirth.