What is herpes (HSV)?
Genital herpes can be spread to the baby during delivery, if a woman has an active infection at that time. Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). Herpes infections can cause blisters and ulcers on the mouth or face (oral herpes), or in the genital area (genital herpes). HSV is a life-long infection.
Symptoms of HSV may include painful blisters or open sores in the genital area, which may be preceded by a tingling or burning sensation in the legs, buttocks, or genital region. The herpes sores usually disappear within a few weeks, but the virus remains in the body and the lesions may recur from time to time.
It is important that women avoid contracting herpes during pregnancy, because a first episode during pregnancy creates a greater risk of transmission to the newborn. Women may be treated with an antiviral medication such as acyclovir if the disease is severe. Genital herpes can cause potentially fatal infections in babies if the mother has active genital herpes (shedding the virus) at the time of delivery. Cesarean delivery is usually recommended for active genital herpes. Fortunately, infection of an infant is rare among women with genital herpes infection.
Protection from genital herpes includes abstaining from sex when symptoms are present, and using latex condoms between outbreaks.