Pregnant women with genital herpes are at risk of transmitting the disease to their baby. When an infant contracts the disease from his or her mother, the condition is referred to as congenital herpes, birth-acquired herpes or neonatal herpes simplex virus. This condition has extremely serious complications for the child, such as brain damage, and the fatality rate is high.
Genital Herpes and Pregnancy
Herpes is an epidemic in America, infecting roughly one-quarter of the population. Approximately 20 percent of pregnant women carry the herpes virus, but only 5 percent are symptomatic, which can complicate diagnosis, reports the American Family Physician. Also, one child per every 3,000 to 20,000 births in America contracts the disease from his or her mother.
Medical evidence shows that the chances of mother-to-child transmission are much higher in the following situations.
- When the mother first contracts herpes during her pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester. Women who have had it for some time are less likely to transmit it to their babies.
- When the woman is having an active outbreak and delivers the child vaginally.
- When doctors use invasive treatments such as forceps during delivery.
Diagnosis & Types of Neonatal Herpes
While some infants contract the condition in utero, most infections occur during or post-delivery. There are three subtypes of natally/postnatally-acquired herpes.
- Herpes infection localized to the skin, eye and mouth
- Disseminated infection (This infection is the most serious and involves multiple sites, such as the central nervous system, lungs, liver and adrenal glands.
Diagnosing congenital herpes is challenging for doctors initially. There might not be symptoms right away, and by the time the disease is discovered, the disease has progressed, and the infant has severe complications. Doctors can diagnose the condition by culturing the blood, cerebrospinal fluid and urine, as well as fluid from the baby’s eyes and nose.
Below are some of the signs doctors should monitor when a baby is born to a mother with genital herpes.
- Inability to feed
The Effects of Herpes on Infants
Newborns who have been diagnosed with neonatal herpes or who are suspected to have the condition should be given an antiviral medication. The potential outcomes for an infected child depend on the type of infection. When the virus is limited to the skin, eyes or mouth, the mortality rate is virtually zero, but when the baby has encephalitis or a disseminated infection, the mortality rate is 15 percent and 57 percent respectively, according to American Family Physician.
Infants who survive after contracting herpes from their mothers might suffer long-term complications such as:
- Eye disease
- Severe brain damage
- Lung issues
- Liver problems
Is the doctor or hospital responsible for your child’s condition?
There are certain precautionary measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of herpes. Early diagnosis, suppressive therapy, Cesarean birth and avoidance of invasive instruments can all help. If the doctor or hospital doesn’t follow protocol or acts outside of the standard of care and the baby suffers injury, illness or death as a result, the provider may be considered legally liable for the damages.
To lose your child to a condition such as herpes or to know that your baby has suffered life-threatening or debilitating complications that could have been avoided is a horrible feeling. While pursuing legal action will not heal the physical harm, it can help you afford the care your child needs and cushion your family’s finances as you endure the difficult time.