What to Know About Herpes, Fertility & Pregnancy
Many people in our society have herpes; however, no one seems to talk about it openly due to the social stigma associated with the condition. This lack of openness and dialogue has given rise to many myths and misconceptions about the infection, especially in the TTC community.
We will discuss herpes and its impact on your ability to conceive in this post. So, let’s begin by understanding the infection of herpes first, shall we?
What is the herpes virus?
Herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections all over the world. According to the latest statistics, 10% of adults living in Australia between 14-49 years of age have HSV2. Moreover, about 75% of adults have oral Herpes (HSV1).
Genital herpes is a viral infection caused by Herpes Simplex virus type 2 (HSV2). Some of the most recognizable signs of genital herpes include –
- red bumps around the genitals that are itchy
- white blisters, and
Oral herpes, on the other hand, is caused by a different strain of the virus named herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1). It is characterized by cold sores around the mouth and fever blisters. The most common way oral herpes spreads is by saliva, and consequently, many people are infected with it in childhood.
There is a stigma associated with HSV2. However, people don’t seem to bother a lot about oral herpes. That said, both types of herpes, whether genital or oral, are alike and are treated exactly with the same medications.
Testing and Treatment of Herpes
If you are getting screened for STIs, ensure to let your healthcare provider test you for herpes. If you have a cold sore or a blister, the doctor might take a small fluid sample and evaluate it for the presence of the HSV. If you don’t have any blister or sore, there is a blood test for herpes. Your healthcare provider might be able to guide you through the process of picking the test that is best for you.
Always keep one thing in mind HSV1 & HSV2 are caused by the DNA virus Herpesviridae ( chickenpox and shingles), and there is no way to cure it. However, it can be managed with medicine, and the chances of future outbreaks and you spreading it to others can be reduced with drugs. If you are having an outbreak, your doctor might prescribe you medications that can ease your symptoms.
Herpes and Fertility
Many people mistakenly believe that if you get diagnosed with genital HSV, it’s all over. Many women believe that if they have intercourse with someone, they might spread the virus and somehow compromise their ability to conceive children. However, the truth couldn’t be farther from this notion.
According to most fertility experts and researchers, unlike other STIs such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia, Herpes does not hurt your fertility and ability to conceive children. That said, there are sporadic reports of a man who have been infected with HSV1 having low sperm counts.
HHV-6A and miscarriage
Although most strains of herpes don’t cause infertility, one particular strain is of concern, and the is HHV-6A. This strain, which is different from the one that causes blisters and cold sores, has been shown to cause miscarriages in women. The way it affects your fertility is by attacking the uterine lining. The HHV-6A strain makes the uterus inhospitable for implantation of the fertilized egg. If your doctor suspects that you have this strain, they might order a uterine lining biopsy to confirm it. Unfortunately, there is no TGA approved treatment or therapy that specifically targets this strain of herpes.
Herpes and pregnancy
One of the first things you should do if you have HSVor are pregnant is talking to your healthcare provider. However, the good news is that risk of you transmitting herpes to your child is small, according to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA). Although herpes in neonates can be a serious health condition, it is quite rare. The proportion of neonates that get infected with genital herpes stands at 0.1%.
The figure becomes much more important when comparing it with the number of pregnant women having herpes, which stands at 25-30%. It means that only a small fraction of pregnant women with HSV pass the infection onto their babies.
Many women are embarrassed to tell their doctor that they have had herpes due to the social stigma. Talk to your doctor about your previous herpes diagnosis or if you think you might be infected. If your doctor is aware of your condition, they can monitor you for the signs of outbreaks, which becomes important if you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant.
If you develop an outbreak during your pregnancy, your doctor might suggest a C-section to prevent the baby from physically coming in contact with the sores during delivery.
Sex with herpes during pregnancy
If you don’t have genital or oral herpes, and if your partner does, avoid having sex during the pregnancy. Even if your partner is not having any outbreaks, use barrier methods such as condoms and dental dams during sex. Your partner can also start suppression therapy, which will reduce his chances of outbreaks during your pregnancy. Talk to your doctor to know more about this topic and the options you might have.
The risk changes if you contract herpes during pregnancy
It is worse to contract genital HSV when you are pregnant. Contracting Herpes during pregnancy can lead to easy miscarriage if the infection occurs near the third trimester. You can pass on the herpes virus to your unborn child during delivery if you have an outbreak, as the virus can remain in the birth canal. The herpes virus can cause severe damage to the baby’s nervous system and potentially lead to death.
Hence, it is crucial to talk to your doctor if you suspect that you might have herpes during your pregnancy. Your doctor might prescribe you antiviral drugs that can significantly reduce the risk of any future outbreaks.
Try not to panic
Hearing about a diagnosis of herpes can be scary, especially if you are planning to have a baby. However, it makes a lot of sense to take a step back and talk to your doctor before concluding anything yourself.
Many communities like Life With Herpes can help you connect with people living with herpes to find support, hope, and inspiration. A Google search can send you down a rabbit hole full of misinformation and misrepresentation of medical studies. It is best to avoid doing it; instead, talk to your doctor about your options.
Remember, the bottom line is that you can conceive, carry and deliver a healthy baby even if you have HSV. That said, it is important to prioritize your reproductive health. Get tested for STIs if you are trying to get pregnant. It is equally important to be open and honest with your healthcare provider about your sexual history and any infections you might have had in the past. There is no reason why you can’t get pregnant with appropriate medical intervention.