Herpes and Pregnancy

In most cases, pregnant women with genital herpes will go on to give birth to healthy babies.

However, in a small number of births, complications may arise which in rare cases may lead to serious or even fatal consequences for the baby. Complications linked to genital herpes include:

  • Hydrocephaly – also known as 'water on the brain'; infants can develop abnormal rapid growth of the head and have a small face.
  • Microcephaly – an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature labor

When physicians access the impact of genital herpes and pregnancy, a number of factors will need to be determined. These include whether the pregnant woman is experiencing a first episode or a recurrence of genital herpes and which trimester of pregnancy she is in.

The risk of complications is much lower if the genital herpes infection occurred before pregnancy and much higher if she has her first episode during the third trimester (last 3 months) of pregnancy.

Due to this risk it is important that the partner, midwife, obstetrician and other medical professionals dealing with the pregnancy are notified if the pregnant woman has genital herpes so appropriate care can be given. A herpes treatment, acyclovir may be prescribed which as an antiviral medicine, suppresses the herpes virus. This is usually given over a course of 5 days. Whilst not officially approved for use during pregnancy, acyclovir does not appear to lead to further complications and is often prescribed.

Neonatal Herpes

Neonatal herpes refers to babies which become infected with herpes during childbirth . This can occur when the baby comes into direct contact with a herpes blister which is weeping fluid during birth or through skin contact during viral shedding (in which the virus in the pregnant mother works its way up to the skin surface).

Neonatal herpes can have serious and even fatal consequences.

Neonatal herpes can have its own set of herpes symptoms including an infection on the babies eyes, mouth and skin. Neonatal herpes may also damage the organs including the brain.

Antiviral medicine can be used to minimize and / or prevent long term damage to the baby's health. Due to the seriousness of neonatal herpes, particularly in pregnant women experiencing an outbreak of first episode herpes during the third trimester, it is important that medical help is sought as soon as possible.

Our genital herpes gallery includes a photo of neonatal herpes.