Herpes genitalis is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections. An affected adult shows local symptoms if all, but an affected fetus or newborn can suffer serious infection of the whole body. Herpes in pregnancy rarely results in the fetus acquiring the virus but a small number of pregnant women do pass on the virus to their babies during labor and delivery. It has been estimated that up to 90% of people don't even know they have herpes. The good part is a dose of acyclovir taken in the month of delivery is effective in preventing an outbreak during this crucial phase.
Acyclovir,an antiviral medication is totally safe to use in pregnancy. It is given orally for five days if herpes is acquired for the first time in the first and second trimesters. In the last trimester some OB will give acyclovir preventively from week 36 onwards to medicate primary infections.
- People can become infected with herpes during their childhood with no obvious symptom. The most common 'cold sore' is a herpes symptom. Adults get herpes from kissing, oral sex and genital sexual contact.
- Having entered the body, the virus remains there in the nervous system, hiding from the body's immune system. During times of stress, fatigue, or during low emotional phases, painful lesions (outbreaks) show up frequently or infrequently in the person mostly around or inside the vagina.
- During pregnancy the herpes virus is rarely passed on to the baby because the mother's antibodies cross the placenta into the baby's system and offer some immunity against the infection.
- Sadly, pregnant mothers infected with the virus for the first time are more likely to pass on the infection to their babies at birth or before birth through the placenta if they become infected in late pregnancy. Also known as primary infection, the first outbreak of herpes can be passed on to the fetus through the placenta in the absence of maternal antibodies. The medication acyclovir may be prescribed orally or intravenously to prevent fetal abnormalities.
- Any pregnant woman with active herpes blister in the birth canal is likely to pass the virus to the newborn during delivery. For this reason cesarean is performed to prevent newborn from becoming infected.
- It is the standard practice for pregnant women with recurrent or active herpes infection to undergo a section to minimize neonatal infection.
- Herpes can cause neonatal herpes which is life-threatening. This essentially causes eye or throat infections, mental retardation, damaged central nervous system and even death of the baby. To reduce neonatal herpes, acyclovir will be given to the newborn as well.
- Breastfeeding is possible and it is certainly not discouraged, but with an added emphasis on hygiene.