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Neonatal Herpes (also known as Congenital Herpes) is a rare but serious condition affecting 1 in every 3,200 live births. It is one of the most severe prenatal infections that can be caused by either HSV 1 or HSV 2.
Congenital Herpes can cause a lot of distress, especially to expectant mothers. It’s normal to feel worried. But keep in mind that most babies born to mothers infected with herpes are born healthy. There is only a higher risk of mortality if the mother has, for the first time, acquired the herpes virus late in pregnancy.
As a mother-to-be, you can play an active role in preventing the transmission of the herpes virus to your baby. Get regular checkups and talk to your caregiver, midwife or doctor. Being honest with them about your medical and sexual history will help in ensuring a safe and healthy delivery.
In the meantime, here are the essential facts that you need to know, in order to minimize the risk of herpes transmission:
Most cases of neonatal herpes are acquired during delivery, when the baby passes through the mother’s birth canal infected with sores of a herpes outbreak. This is most common with mothers who recently obtained a herpes infection during the last trimester of pregnancy, because the body has not yet developed antibodies against the virus.
Vertical transmission of the herpes virus can also happen in utero (i.e. when the baby is still growing inside the womb of the mother). Postnatal herpes infections occur when the baby is unwittingly exposed to sores of an active herpes infection after birth (e.g. via kisses from relatives with oral herpes).
Clinical features of congenital herpes are usually observed during the first month of the baby’s life, when signs and symptoms of a herpes infection start to appear. The infection can appear in three forms:
Disseminated neonatal herpes infection with the onset of non-specific symptoms is also a possibility. It is the most severe form of neonatal herpes that affects multiple organs. This infection can present with jaundice, seizures, and irritability among a few.
Neonatal herpes can cause sepsis, premature labor, miscarriages, and still births. Despite these threats, death from neonatal herpes infection continues to decrease. Thanks to the important breakthroughs in the understanding of how HSV is transmitted to the fetus, and the advanced medical strategies in antiviral herpes treatment, prognosis for the neonate is fairly high.
For pregnant women with herpes, it is imperative to let your midwife or doctor know about your medical history and condition. That way, they can monitor the first signs and symptoms of a possible risk of transmitting the herpes virus to your baby.
You’re likely to be scared and overwhelmed with all the information out there. But acquiring the proper knowledge about the condition can provide you with the basic understanding on how to effectively manage the condition.
By following these few simple steps, you can play an active role early on, in minimizing the risk of herpes transmission to your baby.
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