Third trimester antiviral prophylaxis for preventing maternal genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) recurrences and neonatal infection

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD004946. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004946.pub2.


Background: Genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection is one of the most common viral sexually transmitted infections. The majority of women with genital herpes will have a recurrence during pregnancy. Transmission of the virus from mother to fetus typically occurs by direct contact with virus in the genital tract during birth.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of antenatal antiviral prophylaxis for recurrent genital herpes on neonatal herpes and maternal recurrences at delivery.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (January 2007), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 4), MEDLINE (January 1966 to February 2007) and EMBASE (January 1974 to February 2007; handsearched conference proceedings; reviewed bibliographies of all relevant articles for further references; and contacted experts in the field.

Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials which assessed the effectiveness of antivirals compared to placebo or no therapy, on neonatal herpes and maternal disease endpoints among pregnant women with genital herpes.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently applied study selection criteria and extracted data.

Main results: Seven randomized controlled trials (1249 participants) which met our inclusion criteria compared acyclovir to placebo or no treatment (five trials) and valacyclovir to placebo (two trials). The effect of antepartum antiviral prophylaxis on neonatal herpes could not be estimated. There were no cases of symptomatic neonatal herpes in the included studies in either the treatment or placebo groups. Women who received antiviral prophylaxis were significantly less likely to have a recurrence of genital herpes at delivery (relative risk (RR) 0.28, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.18 to 0.43, I(2 )= 0%). Women who received antiviral prophylaxis were also significantly less likely to have a cesarean delivery for genital herpes (RR 0.30, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.45, I(2) = 27.3%). Women who received antiviral prophylaxis were significantly less likely to have HSV detected at delivery (RR 0.14, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.39, I(2) = 0%).

Authors' conclusions: Women with recurrent genital herpes simplex virus should be informed that the risk of neonatal herpes is low. There is insufficient evidence to determine if antiviral prophylaxis reduces the incidence of neonatal herpes. Antenatal antiviral prophylaxis reduces viral shedding and recurrences at delivery and reduces the need for cesarean delivery for genital herpes. Limited information exists regarding the neonatal safety of prophylaxis. The risks, benefits, and alternatives to antenatal prophylaxis should be discussed with women who have a history and prophylaxis initiated for women who desire intervention.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyclovir / analogs & derivatives
  • Acyclovir / therapeutic use
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Herpes Genitalis / drug therapy
  • Herpes Genitalis / prevention & control*
  • Herpes Genitalis / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Valacyclovir
  • Valine / analogs & derivatives
  • Valine / therapeutic use


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Valine
  • Valacyclovir
  • Acyclovir