The herpes simplex virus, which usually manifests as a cold sore, is considered a nuisance for adults.
But for newborns, exposure to the common virus can be deadly.
Earlier this year, a Phoenix family lost their newborn daughter at just three weeks old after she contracted the herpes simplex virus.
Jeff Gober’s post about his daughter’s death made international headlines.
“You might think it should have been easy to diagnose. Surely someone with an oozing cold sore kissed her on the mouth, right? Mallory was never in contact with a person who had an active cold sore. Never. Nobody ever kissed her on the mouth. In spite of that, she caught HSV-1 within her first week of life and we had to watch her die slowly for nearly two weeks.”
Gober wisely recommended: “If you have a new baby, or will be around a new baby, wash your hands. A lot.”
It's a real concern, but it is rare
The death of an infant from complications related to an HSV-1 infection is very rare.
HSV-1, or oral herpes, is the virus behind the cold sore. Oral herpes infection is mostly asymptomatic and the majority of people with it don't know they are infected, according to the World Health Organization.
Infection usually happens through contact when an infected person kisses a baby, or when the infected individual touches a cold sore and then touches the baby. Herpes can also spread when no cold sores are present.
I am extremely sorry for Mr. Gober’s loss, and I commend his bravery in making this tragedy public.
How can I protect my newborn from the Herpes virus?
Herpes infections in newborns are a legitimate concern and parents can take steps to keep their babies safe.
The No. 1 thing they can do to safeguard their children from herpes, other viruses and bacteria, is to insist that everyone wash their hands before holding their newborn.
Most of us have been infected with HSV-1 at some point in our lives, so you’re not being impolite by asking everyone, even grandparents, to take precautions.
Do not allow anyone with a cold sore – or who had a cold sore in the previous week – to hold or kiss your baby.
If possible, keep your baby from crowded public places the first few months after birth. This is a good way to avoid contact with strangers and exposure to other respiratory germs.
Salil Pradhan, M.D., is a pediatrician with Maricopa Integrated Health System in Phoenix. He also is an assistant professor of child health at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix.