Women and Genital Herpes
Studies have shown that women are more often infected with genital Herpes
Simplex Virus-2 compared with men. Women may be more susceptible to genital infections because:
- The genital area in women has a greater surface area with more moist cells
(called mucosal cells) than men.
- Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle may interfere with
local immune responses, making it easier for the herpes virus to invade a woman's body.
Compared with men, more women seem to develop more severe symptoms during an
outbreak of genital herpes. Four out of 5 women (compared with 1 out of 4 men) develop inflammation of the
urethra with discharge and have difficult or painful urination during initial infection. In addition, 7 out of
10 women (compared with 4 out of 10 men) have flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and muscle pain during
an initial outbreak.
Genital Herpes Is Often Misdiagnosed
Genital herpes sores can occur inside the vagina and/or on the cervix and go unnoticed. In addition,
because of the wide range of symptoms associated with genital herpes and the fact that it goes away after several
days, it is often misdiagnosed or goes unnoticed. Genital herpes may be misdiagnosed as:
- Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix)
If you have recurrent yeast infections or urinary tract infections, ask your
doctor about the possibility of a genital herpes infection.
Genital Herpes & Pregnancy
If you have genital
herpes and are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should consult your
It's important for you to know that having genital herpes does not mean you
can't have children. Many women with genital herpes have normal pregnancies. In fact, between 20% and 25% of
pregnant women have genital herpes.
Women who have genital herpes before becoming pregnant have a low risk of
passing it to their babies. The newborn is infected with the herpes simplex virus when he or she comes into
direct contact with the virus in the birth canal at the time of delivery. Women who get genital herpes for the
first time during their third trimester of pregnancy do have a higher chance of passing the virus to the baby
because their body has not built up antibodies to the virus.
If you are pregnant and suspect that you may have genital herpes, it is
important to talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms right away so that he or she can plan
appropriately for your delivery.
Herpes in Newborns
Herpes infections in newborns are rare, but they
can be life-threatening when they do occur. Early symptoms of newborn herpes include fever, lack of appetite,
listlessness, and skin sores. Brain and nervous system damage can occur even with immediate treatment, and
some infants die from the infection.
Risk factors for neonatal herpes include whether the genital herpes infection is an
initial or recurrent infection. Other risk factors include how long the membranes have been ruptured (more than
4 hours) and trauma to the infant during birth from the use of forceps or fetal scalp monitoring.
Preventing Newborn Herpes
Most women with genital herpes have normal vaginal deliveries. When labor begins, your doctor will
perform a visual examination to look for signs of the herpes virus. Be sure to notify your doctor if you think you
have symptoms during labor. A cesarean section may be performed if you have signs or symptoms of genital herpes at
the time of delivery.
If you are pregnant and don't have genital herpes, but your partner does, it is
important to avoid contracting the genital herpes virus during pregnancy. You should avoid skin-to-skin contact
when herpes symptoms are present. Latex condoms should be used, provided you are not allergic to latex. (Please
see your doctor for alternative barrier methods if you're allergic to latex.) During the last trimester, it is
of particular importance to abstain from intercourse and oral sex.
The safety and efficacy has not been established for any prescription oral
antiviral medication for use in pregnancy. Please see your doctor if you are pregnant, planning to become
pregnant, or breastfeeding.
and Genital Herpes