A new study from the University of Washington in Seattle finds that pregnant women have less unprotected sex if they know that their partner has HSV-2. 287 women who tested negative for HSV-2 took part in the study, and their partners were tested for HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Women whose partners tested positive for HSV-2 reported having unprotected genital sex on 2% of days during follow-up, compared to 8% of days for those whose partners tested negative for HSV-2 and 11% of days when the partner’s HSV-2 status was unknown.
The partner’s HSV-1 status had no impact on frequency of sex or the percentage of days when genital sex was unprotected. Babies born to mothers with genital herpes rarely become infected, primarily because the mother’s own antibody response to the virus protects the baby. The risk of neonatal transmission increases when the woman contracts HSV late in pregnancy (when there’s no time for the maternal antibody response to develop to the new infection and the viral load may be higher). So why test the partner? Women who don’t have HSV-2 (or don’t know their status) are encouraged to abstain from sex with an HSV-2-positive partner during pregnancy, or to at least reduce the risk by using condoms and potentially having the partner take a daily suppressive dose of an HSV antiviral medication. (Studies show that a daily dose of Valtrex taken by those with HSV-2 cuts transmission to an uninfected partner by nearly half.)
For more on HSV and pregnancy visit ASHA’s Herpes Resource Center online.
Delaney S, Gardella C, Daruthayan C, Saracino M, Drolette L, Corey L, and Wald A. A Prospective Cohort Study of Partner Testing for Herpes Simplex Virus and Sexual Behavior during Pregnancy. JID, 2012. 206(4):486-494.