Pregnant with Herpes: What are the Risks?

We know that being pregnant is a joyous and sometimes terrifying time, especially if you currently have, or have a history of STDs. That’s why we at SelfCollect are here to help you in whatever way we can. Last month, we looked at how gonorrhea and chlamydia can affect your baby’s health. This month, we’re going to tackle herpes

What is Herpes?

Herpes is one of the few incurable sexually transmitted diseases. It is extremely common too — one in five women in the United States between the ages of 14 and 49 have genital herpes. 

This virus comes in two forms: HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

As stated by Women’s Health, HSV-1 is the oral strain of the disease. HSV-1 often causes cold sores or "fever blisters." Its symptoms are milder than genital herpes, and you may get fewer outbreaks. 

HSV-2 is the most common cause of genital herpes. It is spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex and can spread to the mouth during oral sex. It also causes outbreaks in those regions.

HS1-V cannot turn into HSV-2 (and vice versa), even if the disease is transferred to another part of your body.

During outbreaks, you can take the following steps to speed up the healing process and prevent transmission:

  • Keep sores clean and dry.

  • Try not to touch the sores.

  • Wash your hands after any contact with the sores.

  • Avoid all sexual contact from the time you first notice symptoms until the sores have healed.

Although herpes is most contagious during an outbreak, it is possible to transmit it without one. Practice safe sex (oral, anal, and genital) to help reduce the chance of spreading the disease to your partner. 

Herpes has no cure. You can be treated to reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks. The treatment is anti-viral medicine, which is taken orally. 

How Herpes Affects Pregnancy

Before we get into it, we wanted to be very clear: it is rare for your baby to experience complications if you have herpes. Less than 0.1% of babies born in the United States each year get neonatal herpes. However, it is still possible and complications caused by neonatal herpes can be fatal. 

Even with early detection and treatment, neonatal herpes can cause an overwhelming infection resulting in lasting damage to the central nervous system, mental development issues, or death.

An expectant mother who has a history of herpes is less at risk of passing the disease to her child due to the number of herpes antibodies in her system. Her body already has a defense against the virus, thus reducing the chance of outbreaks and infection. 

If a mother gets herpes for the first time while pregnant, the chance of passing it on to her child is higher. The risk increases if herpes is contracted later in the pregnancy, such as in the third trimester. The chance of passing it onto your baby is still low, however. 

Talk with your obstetrician or midwife. Make sure they know you have genital herpes or if your partner has it. Your doctor or midwife should have you tested. 

At the time of labor, your healthcare provider should examine you early in labor with a strong light to detect any sores or signs of an outbreak. Let your provider know if you have any signs of an outbreak—itching, tingling, or pain.

Many doctors will recommend a C-section if an outbreak is present when a woman goes into labor. Your healthcare provider may also recommend this as a general precaution. 

The other option is to take high doses of antiviral medication at 36 weeks gestation until birth, also known as suppression therapy. Suppression therapy has been shown to decrease viral shedding of HSV. 

Get Tested! 

The best way to protect you and your future baby is to get tested before you engage in any sexual activity with your partner! Both of you should be tested and take careful precautions if either of you do test positive. 

That’s where we come in. At SelfCollect, we offer discrete and accurate at-home testing kits for men and women. Our kits are DNA tests, so no blood is required! 

DNA tests are swabs taken from potentially infected areas. They are highly accurate at detecting an active virus. A positive test indicates the virus is currently active, or commonly referred to as an outbreak. DNA tests are also able to differentiate between HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Remember, if one of you does test positive, it’s okay. Herpes is extremely treatable and you can still engage in healthy sexual activity. Talk with your doctor about treatment options and tips on how to protect your partner and your future child.