Ask The Expert
August 20, 2010
Genital herpes is a viral infection that causes recurring sores or ulcers of the cervix, vagina, labia (folds of skin outside the vagina) and/or the surrounding skin.
The lesions can cause burning, itching or other irritation. Lesions last for several days. During this time, they "shed" the virus. A person who comes in contact with the herpes sores, during sex for example, is at risk for infection. Herpes virus may also be shed between episodes, even if no sores are present.
The frequency of recurrences varies from person to person. People with frequent symptomatic recurrences may take medicines to reduce the frequency of outbreaks.
If a pregnant woman happens to have an outbreak of genital herpes during labor and delivery, she can pass the herpes infection to the newborn. The risk is highest if delivery occurs during the initial or primary genital herpes outbreak. This is because:
Herpes infections in newborns are quite serious. Their immune system is not fully-formed. The infection may spread throughout the body and affect many organs and systems. There are several ways to minimize the risk of a woman transmitting the infection to her newborn.
Managing herpes in pregnancy can be complicated. Your doctor or midwife can help answer questions and create a plan that minimizes risks to you and your baby. The most important thing you can do is to share your history of herpes infection with your health care professional.