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How can I transmit genital herpes to the fetus if I am pregnant?

The risk of transmitting genital herpes to a fetus varies greatly, depending on when a woman is infected. A pregnant woman who develops a first episode of genital herpes during her pregnancy is at highest risk of passing the virus to her fetus and may be at higher risk for premature delivery.

If a mother has her first outbreak near or at the time of a vaginal birth, the baby's risk of infection is high. If the outbreak is a recurrence -- meaning the mother was infected before she was pregnant -- the baby's risk is much lower. Overall, studies show that less than 2% of pregnant women with herpes simplex virus (HSV) acquired the virus during pregnancy.

Before much was known about how HSV is transmitted from mother to baby during birth, many pregnant women with the virus were given cesarean sections, regardless of when they became infected. Today, cesarean sections are limited to women who have detected sores in or near the birth canal at the time of labor. Women whose virus is active late in pregnancy may be put on suppressive therapy to help prevent transmission to the infant.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.