Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(6):1143

What is a genital herpes infection?

Genital herpes infections are sexually transmitted diseases. Symptoms can include painful sores in the genital area, itching, painful urination, vaginal discharge and tender lumps in the groin. With the first episode, many people have a fever and general aches, like the flu. Most people with herpes infection will have outbreaks of sores and symptoms from time to time. Some women have herpes only on the cervix. In this case, there may be few or no symptoms with an outbreak.

About 25 percent of adults in the United States are infected with genital herpes infections. The virus is not curable. Babies born to mothers who have an active genital herpes infection at or near the time of delivery can become infected. This can be serious and sometimes fatal for newborns.

What if I have herpes and become pregnant?

If you have had genital herpes and are considering pregnancy or are pregnant, be sure to tell your doctor. He or she may give you antiviral medicines so you will be less likely to have an outbreak of herpes at or near the time you have your baby. If you do have an outbreak of genital herpes at the time of delivery, your doctor will want to deliver your baby by cesarean section so your baby will be less likely to get herpes infection. Using casarean section, the risk of giving herpes to your baby is small.

What if I get herpes during pregnancy?

If you have your first episode of genital herpes during pregnancy, you should tell your doctor. Your doctor may want to treat you with antiviral medicine. The risk of your baby getting herpes is much higher if you have your first episode of genital herpes near the time of delivery.

It is important to avoid getting herpes during pregnancy. If your partner has a history of herpes and you do not have it, be sure to use condoms during sexual intercourse at all times during pregnancy. Your partner could pass the infection to you even if there are no painful sores. If there are painful sores, you must not have sex until the sores heal.

Where can I find more information on genital herpes infections?

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site at or call the CDC National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922.

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