I am 24 years old and was just diagnosed with herpes. I may want to have kids one day so I’m wondering if herpes can affect my fertility? What do I need to know about the herpes virus and pregnancy?

Written by Dr. Beth Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Olive Fertility Centre.

You are not alone.  Almost 1 in 6 people have genital herpes.  Genital herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) type 1 or 2.  Most people who have genital herpes don’t have any symptoms, but if you do the symptoms can include burning when you urinate and painful blisters on the genital skin. You can contract genital herpes through anal, oral or vaginal intercourse with a person who has symptoms or not.  When a person doesn’t have symptoms the virus can still be on the genital skin (called asymptomatic shedding) so the virus can be transmited to another person.  The good news is that herpes seems to have no impact on female fertility.  Herpes in men can decrease sperm count and sperm quality and treatment of herpes in men with oral anti-viral medications can help.

The genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection is of concern when you are pregnant, however, as the virus can be transmitted to your baby during birth.  Transmission of HSV to a baby can occur during labor and vaginal delivery as the baby is in direct contact with virus shed from the genital skin (vulva, vagina, cervix, perianal area).  HSV infection of a newborn baby can cause blistering of the skin, inflammation of the eyes, meningitis and even death. Fortunately babies are rarely infected (just 1 in 5000 births).   Since the virus may be present whether the mother has symptoms or not, it is generally recommended that women who have had genital herpes in the past take an oral anti-viral medication from 36 weeks of pregnancy until the birth. This approach reduces the risk of the baby being infected with HSV by over 30%.

Herpes is just one of several sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  Fortunately, it does not affect female fertility, but many other STIs infections can. Chlamydia and gonorrhea, for example, can seriously damage the Fallopian tubes making conceiving very difficult or even impossible without surgery or IVF.  So if you have had any other sexually transmitted diseases it’s important to see a health care provider to determine whether they might have affected your fertility.

My advice is to not to worry about herpes and fertility, but once you are pregnant please talk to your physician or midwife about preventing transmission of the virus to your newborn.

To read more about the relationship between sexually transmitted infections and fertility, click here, here, and here.


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