A mother has shared a rather unnerving story on Facebook that’s subsequently gone viral. One Lucy Kendall tells the tale of her son, Oliver Jaz Miller, born at the start of August. She explains that, 11 days post-birth, he stopped drinking milk, got a temperature, and was soon rushed to hospital.
Ultimately, the baby fought for his life in a High Dependency Unit, and was diagnosed with neonatal herpes. After 21 days in the hospital, Oliver was brought home and given a 6-month course of antibiotics. Naturally, Kendall considers herself and her family to be extremely lucky.
This isn’t the first time such a story has been shared. In 2017, sores quickly proliferated across Juliano, a baby from Des Moines in Iowa, and the very same diagnosis was made. Luckily, the baby survived in this case too.
Neonatal herpes, per the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), is a form of herpes infection in a newborn baby. It’s caused by the herpes simplex virus, either type 1 or 2. It’s the very same virus that produces cold sores and genital sores, and currently has no cure. It remains in a person’s system, often silently and asymptomatically, for their entire lives. For adults, the virus can be unsightly and uncomfortable but rarely dangerous.
Babies can contract it in a variety of ways. If the mother developed genital herpes for the first time towards the end of pregnancy, say within the last six weeks, the baby can become infected if it’s delivered vaginally. If the mother has herpes sores on her breasts and she engages in breastfeeding, this can pass on the virus too.
What appears to have happened in these two stories, however, is someone with a cold sore kissed the baby, inadvertently infecting it. That’s why, if you have a cold sore or you’re prone to getting them, you should keep your distance around newborns. Wash your hands too before coming into contact with them, if you must, and definitely don't kiss them.
Herpes is not exactly a pleasant thing to get as an adult, no matter what form it takes, but it can be particularly dangerous in a young baby, as the two aforementioned cases grimly demonstrate. Their underdeveloped immune systems simply can’t handle it.
The symptoms can vary, but you should phone a clinical practitioner immediately if your baby appears to be very irritable, lethargic, isn’t hungry at all, has a fever, and has a rash or sores on the eyes, skin, or mouth. Phone an ambulance right away if this develops into unresponsiveness, rapid breathing, your baby can’t seem to wake easily from slumbering, or it develops a blue-tinged tongue or skin.
If you’re lucky, herpes will only affect the skin, eyes, or mouth, due to lesions created during birth. In this case, antiviral treatment normally does the trick; untreated, it can lead to blindness.
If, however, it’s spreading through the baby's internal organs, known as disseminated herpes, it's life-threatening. The baby can also get central nervous system herpes, which leads to the self-destruction of nerve cells and long-term negative conditions.
Neonatal herpes needs to be treated immediately, but even if it does, around a third of babies still perish. Such was the case with Mariana Reese Sifrit. Also born in Iowa in 2017, she died after developing meningitis triggered by a herpes infection from cold sore contact.
Without treatment, there's a 60 percent chance the baby will die, according to a recent World Health Organization-funded review in The Lancet.
Cold sore cases are rare. In fact, transmission is normally through the vaginal birth method. Either way, the more enlightened everyone is, the less likely babies will be threatened by this virus.