Cold sores during pregnancy seem to be a common occurrence for women infected by the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). Pregnancy can weaken a woman’s immune system which will make her more prone to cold sore outbreaks. A cold sore can also be triggered by increased levels of stress.
Many women experience an increased number of cold sores as pregnancy progresses. This could be caused by the immune suppression that happens so that the body will not reject the fetus.
Fortunately, the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores is not genetically acquired. This means that the baby would not automatically acquire the virus. However the timing and location of cold sores during pregnancy is a crucial factor to be considered if the baby’s safety is to be guaranteed.
The risk of infecting the baby is at the highest when a woman contracts the herpes virus in the last few weeks of pregnancy. Although this situation is uncommon, it may be the reason for almost half of reported cases of a child being infected while in the womb.
A baby might contract the virus while inside the womb if the mother has a primary herpes infection at any time during pregnancy. At this point, the mother’s body has not yet developed anti-bodies to counteract the virus and there is a possibility that the virus might cross the placenta and infect the baby in the uterus.
Mothers who have been experiencing recurring herpes infections for a long time have a natural protection against the virus. The anti-bodies from the mother find their way to the fetus through the placenta and these anti-bodies protect the baby from acquiring the virus. This is why mothers with recurrent cold sore outbreaks hardly ever transmit the virus to their babies during pregnancy.
Women who have genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 or HSV-2) and are experiencing an active outbreak at the time of giving birth, risk infecting the baby with the herpes virus, if a normal delivery is done. Doctors may opt to do a cesarean section delivery in this situation to protect the baby from coming into contact with the virus.
A normal vaginal delivery is done if the patient does not have and active outbreak at the time of delivery. The risk of infection of the baby is not entirely eliminated, but it is extremely low.
Although rare, it is possible for a baby to be infected by the herpes virus while inside the womb, or during delivery. This occurs infrequently, however if the baby is infected it can be life-threatening.
This infection is called “neonatal herpes” and its effects can be tragic. The results can be serious neurological damage, skin, eye or mouth infection, mental retardation and, in the worse case, death. Treatment with antiviral medications can prevent permanent damage in about fifty percent of cases.
Even after birth, the risk of the child acquiring the herpes virus is possible. Therefore, every precaution should be taken to prevent infection of the baby. In most cases, the baby gets infected by a person who has an active cold sore. It helps to inform family members and persons close to the baby about cold sores, and how dangerous they can be for the child, who has an immature immune system.
If you are pregnant and experience either cold sores or genital herpes, definitely consult your doctor to prevent infecting your baby.