Genital Herpes Reassurances during Pregnancy and Birth

As a parent who is fervently waiting for the birth of your child, perhaps, you’re taking some steps to safeguard the health of your baby. One step that numerous experts suggest is the need to be informed about HSV or the herpes simplex virus. This virus is common and usually cause a minor infection in adults. In infants, however, the virus can result in a rare, but severe, illness.

How can HSV spread to a baby?

Generally speaking, Herpes simplex is passed on to a baby if the mother has an active sore in the birth canal (especially in the vagina) during delivery.

Moreover, HSV can be passed on to the infant if somebody with an active cold sorekisses the baby. In rare cases, HSV could be transmitted by touch or if somebody comes into contact with an active cold sore and then touches the infant.

How can HSV harm an infant? 

HSV can result in neonatal herpes (herpes-infected infants up to twenty-eight days old), an uncommon yet life-threatening disease. Neonatal herpes can result in throat or eye infections, mental retardation, central nervous system damage, or even death. Proper medication will help reduce or prevent lasting damage if it’s provided early.

How many infants get Neonatal Herpes?

Not more than 0.1% of infants born in the USA get neonatal herpes on a yearly basis. The inadequate information from Australasia indicates the occurrence is even lower in New Zealand and Australia (4 out of 100,000 live births). By contrast, 25% to 30% of pregnant women are infected genital herpes. This signifies that most women infected with genital herpes give birth to babies that are healthy.

Which babies are most susceptible to the disease?

Babies are most susceptible to neonatal herpes if the mother gets the infection late in her pregnancy for the first time. This is because a freshly infected mother doesn’t generate the antibodies against the virus. Therefore, the baby does not have natural protection against the virus during child-birth. Additionally, a fresh herpes infection is often active, and there’s a great chance that the virus will appear in the birth canal in the course of the delivery.

What about pregnant women who have a Genital Herpes history?

Women who contract genital herpes right before they become pregnant have very low chances (less than 1%) of passing on the herpes virus to the child. This is because their immune system produces antibodies that are transferred to the baby via the placenta.

Even though HSV is present in the birth canal during delivery, antibodies can aid in protecting the infant from getting HSV. Additionally, if a mother is aware she has genital herpes, the doctor can take measures to safeguard the baby.

Protecting the Baby: Pregnant Women with Genital Herpes

If you’re pregnant and infected with genital herpes, you could be worried about the possibility of passing on the infection to the infant. Be assured that this possibility is extremely slim – especially if you’ve had the infection for some time. The steps below can aid in making the possibility even smaller:

1. Consult your midwife or obstetrician. Be sure he or she is aware you have genital herpes.

2. At the time of labor, examine yourself for whatever symptoms in the genitals – sores, tingling, tenderness, or itching. Moreover, your healthcare provider will check you using a strong light to identify any signs of a herpes outbreak.

3. The choices involving an active outbreak of herpes at the time of delivery must be discussed ideally with your obstetrician. The options include a vaginal delivery (avoiding the routine instrument use) or having a C-section. The risk of passing on herpes with vaginal delivery is low (not more than 3%) and should be considered against the risk of C-section to the mother. Other aspects that could affect your delivery have to be considered as well before a choice can be made.

4. Ask the LMC (local medical committee) not to break the amniotic sac (bag of waters) around the infant unless it is required. The amniotic sac may aid in safeguarding the baby against the HSV in the birth canal.

5. Ask the LMC not to utilize scalp electorde or scalp monitor during labor to keep track of the infant’s heart rate unless it is medically required. This instrument makes minute punctures to the scalp of the baby, which could allow HSV to enter inside. In the majority of cases, an external monitor can be utilized instead of scalp electrodes.

6. Ask that forceps or a vacuum should not be utilized during delivery unless it is medically required. These instruments can result in breaks in the scalp of the baby as well, allowing HSV to enter inside it.

7. Watch your baby more closely for approximately four weeks after child-birth. Neonatal herpes symptoms include skin blisters, fever, tiredness, lack of appetite, or irritability. While these can be quite a few minor illnesses, do not wait for the real outbreaks to come. Take the infant to the pediatrician right away. Make certain that you inform the pediatrician that you’re infected with genital herpes.