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Are You Infected?

Herpes (HSV)

Stats There are 1 million new infections each year, with 45 million Americans already infected. It's estimated that one in four pregnant women has herpes.

Symptoms As many as 90 percent of those infected don't have symptoms, but those who do can experience sores (internal or external) that last two to three weeks, itching or burning, vaginal discharge, fever, or headache.

Testing Blood tests can determine which strain you've been exposed to -- Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), which usually causes oral herpes (cold sores), or Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), which causes genital herpes. If you have symptoms, a culture can confirm or rule out herpes.

Risks A woman with long-standing herpes may find that outbreaks are more severe during pregnancy. Medication to suppress outbreaks is usually given late in pregnancy, but if a woman has sores at delivery, a c-section may be done. If a woman acquires herpes before or early in her pregnancy, the chances of the infection harming her child are small, since there's time to build up and pass protective antibodies to her baby. If a mom-to-be is first infected with herpes in her last trimester, her baby has a 30 to 50 percent chance of contracting neonatal herpes, which, though rare, can cause eye and throat infections, central nervous system damage, developmental delays, and death. Signs of infant infection include sores around the eyes, irritability, lethargy, poor feeding, and seizures.

Treatment Outbreaks can be controlled with antiviral medications such as acyclovir. A 15-year registry for acyclovir found no elevated risk of birth defects.

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