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"I had several outbreaks during pregnancy and was terrified I would pass the infection to my baby," Maria wrote to the Herpes Resource Center.

Babies born prematurely may be at a slightly increased risk, however, even if the mother has a long-standing infection.

This is because the transfer of maternal antibodies to the fetus begins at about 28 weeks of pregnancy and continues until birth.

However, most researchers estimate between 1,000 and 3,000 cases a year in the United States, out of a total of 4 million births.

To put this in greater perspective, an estimated 20-25% of pregnant women have genital herpes, while less than 0.1% of babies contract an infection.

If you are pregnant and you-have genital herpes, you will want to talk with your obstetrician or midwife about how to manage the infection and minimize the risk to your baby.

If you are a man with either oral or genital herpes and your partner is uninfected and pregnant, you can do even more to protect the baby.

But others may suffer serious neurological damage, mental retardation or death.

It's fear of these terrible consequences, rather than the level of risk, that makes neonatal herpes a concern.

Since the highest risk to an infant comes when the mother contracts HSV-1 or 2 during pregnancy, you can take steps to ensure that you don't transmit herpes during this crucial time.

So learn what you need to know, and then relax and enjoy the excitement of the pregnancy -- and remind her that the odds are strongly in favor of you're having a baby as healthy and happy as Maria's.

Mothers who acquire genital herpes in the last few weeks of pregnancy are at the highest risk of transmitting the virus to their infants.

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