Recently, I heard about a baby who died from contracting the cold sore virus. That concept was startling to me. Can cold sores kill a baby? Is that really true? Considering as much as two-thirds of the global population is exposed to cold sores, also known as Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it seemed impossible something so common and seemingly harmless could cause infant death.
After looking up the story, it turns out the parents noticed something was off and went to Blank Children's Hospital where their baby tested positive for HSV-1, according to WHO-TV. The HSV-1 virus led to viral meningitis, which is ultimately what caused the baby's organs to fail. In an interview with CNN, Pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann said that although it's common to catch the herpes simplex virus, it's very rare that it develops into meningitis. If it does, however, viral meningitis is most likely to develop into a serious illness in babies under 1 month old and people with weakened immune systems, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Although a baby can't die from a cold sore alone,that means that they could from the complications that might occur afterwards. On the very rare chance that HSV-1 turns into meningitis, life-long or deadly complications are a possibility if it's not caught in time or if a baby isn't able to fight it off, according to John Hopkins Medicine. The aforementioned CDC article noted that common signs of meningitis in babies are fever, crankiness, poor eating, lethargy, and difficulty waking from sleep. So consider watching for those if you're concerned about the HSV-1 virus.
In the aforementioned WHO-TV article, pediatric infectious disease physician Dr. Araman Moodley said around 85 percent of babies infected by herpes receive it through vaginal birth — not a kiss or being held. But again, it's extremely rare that it leads to meningitis and death, so it's not likely a reason you need to worry. It never hurts, however, to bring it up to your doctor if you're concerned and get their advice.
Parents shouldn't be afraid of kissing or snuggling with their newborn, but in order to prevent HSV-1 after birth, they should urge others to refrain from kissing their baby and have them wash their hands. Although there are stories of cold sores leading to meningitis and death in babies, they are very rare. And, unfortunately, there's only so much you can do to prevent HSV-1. You can, however, be cautious and aware the first couple months when it comes to having others wash up, taking your baby out in public, and discouraging smooches from visitors.