The stigma of herpes is long reaching. One of those quiet Sexual Transmitted Diseases, (STDs), that rarely gets talked about, this lack of communication and knowledge about the virus can lead many people to wonder what long term effects it can have on their body, health and even yes, their ability to have children in the future.
Herpes and fertility have been studied thoroughly and with good results. While it has been estimated that 20% of the total adult population either has Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), or is a carrier of the disease; and among those who do have it, a whopping 60% are symptom free, which means they have no idea that they have it, nor that they can pass it onto their partner.
This can leave a large percentage of the population fighting a virus they are unaware of. Which leads us back to our initial question: can it affect your fertility?
Most experts agree that the answer is a resounding NO. While yes, herpes is a virus that affects the genital area (the vulvas and vagina in women and the penis in men), it does not seem to cross over into other reproductive areas and has little if any affect on a man’s sperm production nor a woman’s ability to conceive. It does offer its own unique problems however when it comes to conception and pregnancy.
No, herpes doesn’t impede conception but it makes it more difficult in one respect: the fact that during an outbreak partners are encouraged to steer clear of close intimate contact, which could limit your “availability” during the most crucial baby-making time of the month. Still, most outbreaks are relatively short lived and a couple with active herpes should be able to try again to conceive within a month or two once all signs of lesions have dissipated.
Most commonly characterized by its tell-tale blisters and burning and itching in the genital area, the herpes simplex virus is easily transmitted from partner to partner, and therefore could be transmitted to a baby during delivery should an outbreak occur. Under these circumstances, most obstetricians would encourage the mother to undergo a caesarean section just to safeguard the baby’s health. Others argue that that precaution isn’t even necessary.
Still, when no open lesions are present, it is agreed that a completely natural vaginal birth can take place with no ill effects to either mother or baby. As a matter of fact, research has shown that a mother with herpes has antibodies in her blood which the baby receives during the course of the pregnancy that helps to protect the baby from getting the virus even if it comes in contact with herpes either in the womb or during the delivery process.
There are two exceptions to this finding however, that could harm a fetus, thus causing a miscarriage or stillbirth:
- When the first herpes episode is experienced in the first trimester of pregnancy. In this instance, the virus may be too strong, thus causing a miscarriage.
- When the first herpes episode is experienced in the third trimester of pregnancy. In this case, the baby has not had the time to develop the proper antibodies and resistance to the virus, in which case neonatal herpes may develop, which can result in infant death.
Of course these two scenarios would mean that the herpes virus was contracted during the pregnancy. For women already suffering with herpes at the time of conception, those scenarios would be impossible.
When it comes to men and herpes, there seems to be no scientific data to support any risk to his sperm or fertility. The herpes virus is not hereditary and can not be transmitted to the sperm, so a male’s fertility is completely safe from the disease.
Another concern however (for both partners) is that the herpes virus is just one of many STD’s that usually is contracted together. For instance, it is rare to contract herpes alone and not another STD with it; and those other STD’s may indeed have a direct impact on your fertility and pregnancy outcome.
So, what’s the lesson here? If you have herpes, get checked for other STD’s to make sure they are not what is standing in your way of a pregnancy; and when you do have herpes talk openly with your doctor about all of the things you can do to protect your baby both in the uterus and during delivery. Generally speaking, however, herpes has little affect on a couple’s fertility and in most cases does not pose any real threat to a pregnancy.
4.ASHA Herpes Resource Center (www.ashastd.org)
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