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Herpes and Pregnancy

Herpes and Pregnancy

One in eight Australians……
Genital herpes is an extremely common disease with one in eight Australians carrying the virus. There is a lot of misinformation in the community about genital herpes and this means the psychological impact of the disease often outweighs the physical effects.
Here are some facts:

  • The reality is that many herpes carriers don’t even know they have the disease, as they may never have symptoms, or only have very mild ones. 
  • Symptoms for thrush and herpes can be very similar and can be mistaken.
  • Genital herpes symptoms can occur months or even years after the actual sexual contact that transmitted the virus.
  • Genital herpes infection occurs through exposure of the genitals to the virus from a partner with active herpes. This can be through genital or oral contact.
  • The first attack is the most severe and most risky to pregnant women.
  • There are effective medications that can help to control symptoms.
  • Genital herpes can cause infections on the genitals, buttocks, anus, thighs, mouth, lips or face. Infections on the face are traditionally called type-one herpes, while genital herpes is called type-two herpes. You can, however, get cross over infections.
  • Genital herpes is not hereditary and has no effect on fertility. It is not transmitted by sperm or ovum (eggs).
  • Women with genital herpes can have a normal pregnancy and birth especially if the infection first occurred prior to becoming pregnant. They will have antibodies that help protect the baby.
  • If you have an episode of genital herpes when you go into labour, a caesarean will generally be recommended to prevent transmission to the baby.
  • Recurrent genital herpes presents only a minimal risk during pregnancy but it can interfere with a woman’s enjoyment of pregnancy.
  • The pregnancy could end in miscarriage if the first episode of herpes occurs in early pregnancy.
  • If the first episode occurs in the last few weeks of pregnancy there is a potential for the virus to transmit during the birth to the baby as antibodies have not developed and large amounts of the virus is present. Antiviral drugs and/or a caesarean may be needed in this case.
  • If your partner has genital herpes but you don’t, then get a blood test to see if you have any antibodies. Make sure you use condoms through to the birth, avoid oral sex if there is a history of facial herpes and consider having your partner take antiviral drugs to suppress outbreaks.
  • Being a parent with genital herpes does not affect your children. If you have cold sores avoid kissing your children during an outbreak. This particularly applies to a baby as it could potentially lead to a severe, widespread infection in the newborn.
  • Never be afraid to let your health professional know if you or your partner have a history of genital herpes. It can only help.
  • Get ‘The Facts Pack’ from your doctor. This is an information kit that gives information about genital herpes: www.thefacts.com.au
Dr Hannah Dahlen is the Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney. She has been a midwife for more than 20 years. Hannah is also an executive member of the Australian College of Midwives, NSW Branch. She has researched women's birth experiences at home and in hospital and published extensively in this area. Hannah's website is www.hannahdahlen.com.au

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