Can Genital Herpes Cause Other Health Issues?

Exactly how serious is this STI?

Genital Warts
Genital Warts. Getty Images/Science Picture Co

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) marked by genital pain and sores. Affecting more than 3 million people in the United States every year, once a person is infected, they have it for life. While it remains dormant for much of the time, those with genital herpes experience periodic episodes of active herpes.

Aside from these outbreaks, genital herpes generally does not cause any major problems in healthy adults.

In some cases, when someone has a weak immune system, genital herpes episodes can last longer than usual (outbreaks generally last from two to three weeks) and be unusually severe. This is because the body's immune system fights off foreign invaders and, without this line of defense, the herpes virus can have a greater impact. But generally, the herpes lesions and sores, only there during an outbreak, are the most you need to worry about after contracting this virus.

In rarer cases, if a woman has her first episode of genital herpes while she is pregnant, she can pass the virus to her unborn child and may deliver a premature baby. Half of the babies infected with herpes either die or suffer from damage to their nerves. And a baby born with herpes can develop serious problems that may affect the brain, the skin, or the eyes.

If a baby born with herpes, however, is treated immediately with acyclovir, his chances of being healthy increase.

Therefore, if you are pregnant and infected with genital herpes, you should stay in close touch with your doctor before, during, and after your baby is born.

If a pregnant woman has an outbreak and it is not the first one, her baby's risk of being infected during delivery is very low.

If you have an outbreak during labor and delivery and there are herpes lesions in or near the birth canal, the doctor will do a cesarean section to protect the baby.

Most women with genital herpes, however, do not have signs of active infection with the virus during this time, and can have a normal delivery.


The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

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