The Worst Time to Get Herpes

Jeanne Sager

baby There's never really a "good time" to catch herpes. But it turns out there's one spectacularly bad time to get the STD -- one time that's worse than any other.

That's any time in the last trimester of your pregnancy.

That's because coming down with your first case of herpes in the 28- to 40-week period of a pregnancy brings you the highest risk of passing on the virus to your baby. In babies, the virus can cause blindness, disability, and death.

"If you have been exposed to herpes virus or have had an outbreak, the virus is still in your body," midwife Elizabeth Stein tells The Stir. "In response to this virus, your immune system will produce antibodies, which are found in your blood. These antibodies last for life."

The antibodies can prevent the virus from attacking the fetus. Unfortunately, the lack of antibodies means you can catch herpes, and so can the baby. Depending on when the herpes infection occurred and if it's the first infection or a recurrent outbreak, Stein said the risk of transmission to newborns is anywhere from 1 in 3,000 births to a 40 percent chance.

"It takes your body approximately 8 to 12 weeks to develop antibodies [known as seroconversion] that could prevent herpes transmission to your fetus or newborn," Stein explains. 

Catching the virus during the last trimester means there's no time for antibodies to build up -- putting a baby at the highest risk.

So how do you keep yourself safe?

1. Have your partner tested for the herpes simplex virus. You could be herpes free, but if your partner has it, you could still be at risk.

2. Get tested yourself. If you're positive, they may put you on Valtrex, a medicine used to control herpes outbreaks, in the last month of pregnancy to prevent transmission at birth. Stein says the medicine will not hurt your fetus.

3. Ask for fewer interventions during labor. Any break in the newborn's skin leaves them at risk for transmission of the virus during delivery, so the fewer interventions, the better. Sometimes the caretaker will suggest an immediate C-section to avoid the risk.

4. Sanitation, sanitation, sanitation. The herpes virus can live on towels, toothbrushes, forks, toilet seats, and phones for several hours.

Did you get tested yet?


Image via [lauren nelson]/Flickr


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