Neonatal herpes simplex (HSV) is a relatively rare but very serious disease that can range in severity from localized infections of the skin or eyes to life threatening disseminated infections of the organs and central nervous system.

Neonatal herpes Image/CDC

This potentially life-threatening infection had prompted one mom in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, England to warn others of the dangers lurking in an innocent kiss on her Facebook page recently.

Claire Henderson posted the following on her page after her newborn daughter Brooke contracted the virus (see photo below):

Please share this with every new mum and pregnant woman you know… COLD SORES CAN BE FATAL FOR A BABY. Before 3 months old a baby cannot fight the herpes virus. If a baby contracts this it can cause liver and brain damage and lead to death. I know this sounds like I am scaremongering but if my friend had not told me about this my baby girl could have been very seriously ill. I noticed the signs early and got her to A&E, we have now been in hospital on a drip for 3 days and have got another 2 to go. She was VERY lucky, all her tests came back clear. The moral of the story is DO NOT let anyone kiss your newborns mouth, even if they don’t look like they have a cold sore- 85% of the population carry the virus. And if someone had a cold sore ask them to stay away until it has gone. Everyone who I have spoken to had not heard of this before and so I felt it was important to share Brooke’s story and raise awareness to stop anyone else going through what we have this week.

There are two types of HSV: HSV type 1 usually causes small blisters on the mouth, eye or lips (cold sores), which can also be sexually transmitted, and HSV type 2 usually affects the genital area. HSV infection in newborn babies can be very severe and can even cause death. This is because newborns’ immune systems are not fully developed.

Image/Claire Henderson Facebook page
Image/Claire Henderson Facebook page

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, in the US, about 50 percent to 80 percent of US adults have oral herpes. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), by age 50, approximately 90 percent of adults have been exposed to the virus. Once infected, a person will have the herpes simplex virus for the rest of his/her life.

Health officials note that newborns can sometimes get HSV-1 from close contact with someone who is shedding HSV-1 virus in their saliva or has an active HSV-1 outbreak (cold sores). Newborns with HSV require hospitalization for intravenous antiviral medication for 21 days. Even with this treatment, some newborns can suffer death or brain damage from HSV infection.

They advise, like Claire Henderson, do not kiss your baby or let others kiss your baby, particularly if you or they have cold sores on the mouth or lips, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching the newborn and contact your doctor immediately if there are any signs of HSV infection. These include low grade fever (100.4 degrees F., or more, rectally), poor feeding, irritability, and skin rash in the form of pimples or blisters, seizures or other similar symptoms that may develop within six weeks following birth.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

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