Genital Herpes Complications

Herpes During Pregnancy

Generally speaking, herpes during pregnancy is only a problem in two specific situations. A woman already infected with the virus can expect a normal pregnancy and delivery, unless an outbreak coincides with labor. The active virus could be passed to the infant during a vaginal delivery in this situation, causing serious health problems for the child. Because of this, a caesarean section is performed to prevent infection. The chances that an outbreak will occur during labor are, thankfully, very low, so most women with HSV 2 have normal vaginal deliveries.

An initial infection of herpes during pregnancy is more serious. Infection of the unborn child is more likely in this situation, and the chance of premature birth rises. Although only about 0.01 percent of babies are born infected with the virus, complications can be severe. Fifty percent of infected infants either die or suffer nerve damage. Immediate medical treatment of the newborn can reduce the chance of damage. If you think you may have been infected during pregnancy, you must ensure that your doctor closely monitors the pregnancy.

The Immune System, HIV, and the Herpes Virus

Outbreaks occur more frequently, last longer and have more severe symptoms if the immune system is damaged or suppressed. Certain medications (such as steroid-based drugs) and immunological diseases can hinder the immune system’s ability to fight the active virus.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), perhaps the best-known immunological disease, can interact with HSV 2 in a number of ways. Outbreaks are more severe, of course, as the immune system is already weakened. HIV infection increases the chances of the herpes virus spreading to other locations in the body.

Any genital disease that causes open sores increases the chances of HIV transmission, and genital herpes lesions are no exception. The presence of open genital sores heightens the risk of HIV infection, no matter which partner is infected with which disease.

Cervical Cancer

Herpes infections in the cervix may play a role in the development of cervical cancer. The exact relationship between HSV 2 and cervical cancer is unknown, but women who have the virus should have yearly pap smears as a precaution. Women often do not feel outbreaks that occur in the cervix, so they may not be aware that they are infected.

Emotional Complications

The emotional impact of a herpes infection should not be underrated. A loss of self-esteem, doubt, and depression are common as the infected person tries to cope with the problem. Relationships suffer because of HSV infections: blame, accusations and suspicion are all common outcomes. Most major cities have support groups designed to help individuals and couples deal with the emotional impact of a herpes infection.

Aseptic Meningitis

Aseptic meningitis is caused by viral infections, including the herpes simplex viruses. Symptoms include fevers, headaches and inflammation of the brain tissue. Aseptic meningitis usually resolves itself without treatment in five to fifteen days. It is not often serious, although encephalitis can develop as a complication. Children, infants and people with HIV are at greater risk of developing aseptic meningitis from herpes infections.

Resources (Reviewed 2002). Cervical cancer. Retrieved August 27, 2002, from

National Library of Medicine. (2001). Aseptic meningitis. Retrieved August 27, 2002, from