It is observed that the baby is likely to catch herpes if the infection occurs late in pregnancy.
A recent study has found out that around 20% of pregnant women suffer from genital herpes. Genital herpes during pregnancy does not mean that the baby will be born with birth defects. Many times, women infected with this virus give birth to a healthy baby. The probability of an infected mother passing the virus to her baby depends on the stage of pregnancy.
Factors that can contribute in transmitting the virus to the baby are as follows:
- The baby getting exposed to herpes lesions at the time of delivery.
- Presence of disease fighting antibodies is less; In case the mother has not yet produced any antibodies, then the risk of disease transmission is high.
- In certain situations, if the baby has sufficient time to acquire antibodies from the mother before delivery, then there is a high probability that the baby won’t get infected. This can happen only if the infection affects the woman during her first two trimesters of pregnancy.
- Women acquiring the infection during the last trimester do not get adequate time to supply antibodies to the baby. No wonder, the transmission rate of herpes to the baby is highest (around 33%) in case the woman contracts the infection late in pregnancy.
- The risk of transmission is very low for women who get this infection before pregnancy.
- In some cases, women who get infected with this virus multiple times during pregnancy, surprisingly do not transmit the infection to the unborn baby. This is because they develop immunity against the virus. In such cases, the baby rarely gets infected with the virus.
Treatment for this viral infection in pregnancy involves the use of antiviral medications. These medicines have been effective to control and even prevent outbreaks of genital herpes. Following are the medications useful for the treatment of genital herpes:
A study in which 1000 women were put on acyclovir during the first phase of pregnancy, showed that the medication is likely to be safe, as birth defects in newborns did not occur. Hence, many doctors often recommend the use of acyclovir when it comes to treating genital herpes in pregnancy. In general, antivirals are prescribed during pregnancy, only when its benefits overwhelmingly outnumber the risks.
Genital Herpes Affecting the Baby
If the infection has passed on to the baby during pregnancy, then the newborn may develop few health problems. However, mostly a minor rash on the skin is observed. A rash on the mouth or eyes is an indication that the newborn has been infected with the virus. In few cases, the infection spreads and affects the entire body. All infants suspected to have contracted this viral infection should be given IV acyclovir. Also, the type of virus determines the body parts that may get affected. In case the baby is infected with HSV-2, then it may damage the central nervous system which may lead to meningitis, seizures and even death. Some infants suffer from mental retardation. But if these infants are given timely treatment by administering antivirals intravenously, then they are likely to escape permanent damage.
As genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease, pregnant women not having this infection should abstain from sex ( oral as well as intercourse) with partners who are a suspected case of herpes. Women suffering from this infection should immediately contact an obstetrician (a doctor dealing with childbirth) to know the precautions that need to be taken to reduce the risk of the baby getting infected with the virus.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.