New Study Gives Mothers with Herpes More Options

Doctors tout effectiveness of antiviral designed to prevent the infection of newborns during birth.

A newly concluded study conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical center offers hope to women living with genital herpes who wish to bear children. Because there is a small risk of passing the infection to a baby during the birth process, many herpes-infected mothers have delivered their babies via Caesarean section. For mothers experiencing herpes symptoms at the time of delivery, a C-section is required. The results of this new study, conducted with the participation of pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, suggests that vaginal delivery may now be an option for women not experiencing herpes symptoms at the time of birth.

The danger of infection results from what doctors refer to 'asymptomatic shedding,' a term that describes the ability of those infected with herpes to transmit the virus even when they are not experiencing symptoms. In the case of pregnant women, this shedding can often take place in either the birth canal or the genital region, placing their newborns at risk of contracting the disease. Although such asymptomatic transmission is relatively rare, 70% of herpes cases in unborn babies occur despite their mothers not manifesting any symptoms at the time of birth.

To combat the shedding, the doctors tested the antiviral drug Valtrex (valacyclovir hydrochloride), which is commonly used by those infected with herpes to control outbreaks of the lesions symptomatic of the virus. The study, according to, is the 'first large-scale confirmation that [Valtrex] is effective in the last month of pregnancy.' The women in the study who received the drug were found to have a 69% reduction in the rate of herpes simplex at the time of their delivery, a reduction that the doctors conducting the study said was statistically significant. Dr George Wendel, one of these doctors, said that it will 'help clinicians and patients have confidence in the efficacy and safety of anti-viral suppression in late pregnancy," and, by extension, make vaginal delivery for women with herpes a more viable option. If the methods for controlling herpes during late pregnancy continue to improve, like this study suggests they can, pregnant women infected with the virus will be afforded the ability to choose how their baby is delivered, instead of being confined to the Caesarian option.