If a woman has her first episode of genital herpes while she is pregnant, she can pass the virus to her unborn child and may deliver a premature baby. Half of the babies infected with herpes either die or suffer from damage to their nerves. A baby born with herpes can develop serious problems that may affect the brain, the skin, or the eyes. If babies born with herpes are treated immediately with acyclovir, their chances of being healthy are increased.
If a pregnant woman has an outbreak, which is not the first episode, her baby’s risk of being infected during delivery is very low. In either case, if you are pregnant and infected with genital herpes, you should stay in close touch with your doctor before, during, and after your baby is born.
If a woman is having an outbreak during labor and delivery and there are herpes lesions in or near the birth canal, the doctor will do a cesarean section to protect the baby. Most women with genital herpes, however, do not have signs of active infection with the virus during this time, and can have a normal delivery.
Is genital herpes worse in a person with HIV infection or AIDS?
Genital herpes, like other genital diseases that produce lesions, increases a person’s risk of getting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Also, prior to better treatments for AIDS, persons infected with HIV had severe herpes outbreaks, which may have helped them pass both genital herpes and HIV infection to others.
How can I protect myself or my sexual partner?
If you have early signs of a herpes outbreak or visible sores, you should not have sexual intercourse or oral sex until the signs are gone and/or the sores have healed completely. Between outbreaks, using male latex condoms during sexual intercourse may offer some protection from the virus. When used with these precautions, Valtrex can also help prevent infecting your partner during heterosexual sex.
Is any research going on?
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) supports research on genital herpes and on herpes simplex virus (HSV-1 and HSV-2). Studies are currently underway to develop better treatments for the millions of people who suffer from genital herpes.
While some scientists are carrying out clinical trials to determine the best way to use existing drugs, others are studying the biology of herpes simplex virus. NIAID scientists have identified certain genes and enzymes that the virus needs to survive. They are hopeful that drugs aimed at disrupting these viral targets might lead to the design of more effective treatments.
Meanwhile, other researchers are devising methods to control the virus' spread. Two important means of preventing HSV infection are vaccines and topical microbicides. Several different vaccines are in various stages of development. These include vaccines made from proteins on the HSV cell surface, peptides or chains of amino acids, and the DNA of the virus itself.
NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals are supporting a large clinical trial in women of an experimental vaccine that may help prevent transmission of genital herpes. The trial is being conducted at more than 20 sites in 15 states nationwide. For more information, click here Herpevac Trial for Women.
Topical microbicides, preparations containing microbe-killing compounds, are also in various stages of development and testing. These include gels, creams, or lotions that a woman could insert into the vagina prior to intercourse to prevent infection.
Where can I get help if I’m upset about having genital herpes or I have an infected partner?
Genital herpes outbreaks can be distressing, inconvenient, and sometimes painful. Concern about transmitting the disease to others and disruption of sexual relations during outbreaks can affect personal relationships. If you or your partner has genital herpes, you can learn to cope with and treat the disease effectively by getting proper counseling and medicine, and by using ways to prevent getting infected or infecting someone else, as mentioned above.
Where can I get more information?
National Herpes Resource Center and Hotline
919-361-8488 (9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday)
National STD and AIDS Hotline
1-800-227-8922 or 1-800-342-2437 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases