The most common way for babies to become infected with the herpes virus is via the birth canal or vulva. In rare cases the virus can pass to the infant via the placenta, but this is only a risk if the mother gets herpes for the first time during the first trimester.
If the mother-to-be experiences her first outbreak of herpes during the third trimester, there is just over a 30 per cent chance of passing the virus to the baby. This is due to the fact that the mother has not produced antibodies as a way to fight the infection. By comparison, a mother who becomes infected before pregnancy has just a three per cent chance of transmitting the virus.
Around a third of all cases of newborn herpes will affect the skin, eyes, mouth or mucous membranes of the baby. This indicates that the infection is HSV-1 which is more easily transmitted during labor. If treated promptly with intravenous Acyclovir, the signs are good that the child will develop naturally. If not, there is a good chance that the virus will develop into a more serious form of herpes.
Around a third of all newborn babies will develop a fever, feed poorly, may develop meningitis and have seizures. This indicates that the infection is HSV-2 and has affected the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). The remaining third of cases have what is known as disseminated herpes. Dissemination refers to the fact that different organs in the body are affected. This serious condition results in the deaths of many infants. Survivors will probably have developmental problems and long-term health problems.
A woman who is pregnant may want to be tested for herpes. Many people with herpes have no idea they even have the condition. A woman who has a partner with herpes needs to take special precautions during her pregnancy. These include using latex condoms and avoiding skin contact with the genital area or mouth when he feels an outbreak may be coming. Seek further advice from your Doctor.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2006). Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 55: 16-20.
Published On: March 10, 2009