News du jour Study Shows Herpes Is Hazardous
If Caught Late in Pregnancy
San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 1997

Associated Press


Doctors should tell pregnant women nearing delivery that catching herpes from intercourse or oral sex poses a devastating threat to their babies, researchers said in a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new recommendation emerges from a major study that attempted to assess the risk of genital herpes among 7,046 pregnant women.

Genital herpes can be a horrendous infection for babies, resulting in brain damage or death if acquired during birth. But, according to Dr. Zane A. Brown of the University of Washington, principal author of the study, "Getting herpes during pregnancy is of much greater impact on the baby than having herpes at the start of pregnancy. And what is most significant is getting it late in pregnancy.

When a woman has a first-time genital herpes infection within a month or two before delivery, her immune system does not have time to make antibodies to protect her baby during birth.

During the study, 94 women caught herpes at various stages during pregnancy and went on to produce antibodies before delivery. None of them gave the infection to her baby.

However, nine others got the virus so late in pregnancy that they did not begin making antibodies before they went into labor. Four of their babies got herpes infections, including one who died.

There are two closely related viruses: herpes simplex type 1, which typically causes cold sores, and type 2, which usually causes genital sores.

The type I cold sore virus also can cause genital sores if it is pregnancy. And what is most sig- . spread from an infected person's mouth to an uninfected person's genitals during oral sex.