Herpes is a virus that causes infection of the skin and mucous membranes. There are two main types of herpes simplex viruses (HSV). One type is HSV-1 or oral herpes, and the other is HSV-2 or genital herpes. Unborn babies are at slight risk of contracting herpes from their infected mother. However, not every baby born to a mother with herpes simplex virus will have the virus. Women who are pregnant need to be cautious of transmitting herpes an unborn baby, especially if they have HSV-2. If newborn babies contract the HSV virus, the results can be deadly.
Births by Women Who Know They Have HSV-2
Babies born to mothers with genital herpes can be infected during delivery. Women who know they have genital herpes, before becoming pregnant can greatly reduce and even eliminate the possibility of their babies being infected by this virus. As a matter of fact, less than one percent of babies born to women who know they have genital herpes will become infected. These women are carefully examined and monitored during and just before delivery for signs and symptoms of an outbreak or prodromal period. When there are any symptoms, a cesarean section or C-section is performed instead of allowing the woman to give birth naturally (virginally).
Births by Women Who Do Not Know They Have HSV-2
When a pregnant woman becomes infected late in her pregnancy, her unborn baby’s risk of becoming infected by HSV-2 is extremely high; between 30 to 50 percent of these babies will become infected during delivery. This risk increases because the immune system of the mother has not yet produced protective antibodies against HSV. If a woman has been carrying the virus for some time before becoming pregnant, her body will have had enough time to build up antibodies to fight the virus and provide the baby with protection. Women should always tell their prenatal doctors immediately if they think they might have been infected.
Effects of HSV on Newborn Babies
Herpes can seriously affect a newborn baby. Anyone with a cold sore should never be allowed to kiss a baby. This includes the mother of the baby. Those with cold sores should thoroughly wash their hands using hot water and soap before they touch the baby in any way. Babies who have contracted neonatal herpes are often affected very severely. Many of these babies do not live. Infants are often treated using an anti-viral treatment which usually helps these babies not to be permanently damaged. However, in some cases, babies suffer from devastating neurological damage and mental retardation. Babies are seriously affected by herpes because their immune system has not yet fully developed. Many systems in their bodies can be damaged by the virus. Often, it can take up to twenty-one days for the newborn to become ill after being infected.
Every mother with herpes simplex virus should rigorously protect her unborn child from becoming infected. They should work closely with their doctor to ensure that the medical staff has a complete and detailed medical history. All questions asked by their doctor should be answered in complete honesty as the life of their unborn child could be at risk.