It’s instinctive for parents to smother their babies with affection. Holding them in your arms, cuddling or kissing them on lips is pretty much something that every parent does all the time.
And not just parents, it is a usual thing for family, friends and complete strangers to lurch towards your little one and desperately hold, touch or kiss your baby all over. Unfortunately, all this contact with people makes your little one susceptible to germs and infections.
But turns out, one innocent infected kiss on his lips is all it takes to harm your baby, especially if he is an infant. According to a 2015 study published in BMC Oral Health, the most common bacterial transmission from mother to child’s mouth was kissing children on lips.
Infants are vulnerable in their first few months. Their body lacks the immunity to protect them from viruses and infections.
When you are kissing a baby’s lips, you are putting a whole lot of bacteria into that little defenseless body. The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) states that kissing can transmit up to 500 different kinds of germs.
Besides, the ordinary flu and common cold infections, there are other contagious illnesses that your little one needs protection from.
What is Neonatal Herpes?
Neonatal herpes is a herpes infection in a newborn baby. It’s caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV), a highly contagious virus that can cause cold sores and genital ulcers in adults.
Neonatal HSV infections are usually transmitted from an infected mother during delivery. According to American Academy of Family Physician, the incidence of infection is approximately one per 3,000 to 20,000 live births.
The highest risk of transmission occurs when a pregnant woman develops primary herpes during her third trimester. However, the risk of transmission is very less if the pregnant woman has had recurrent herpes infection during her pregnancy.
Vaginal delivery increases the risk of transmission if the active lesions are present in the genitals at the time of delivery.
Infants can also catch herpes virus through skin-to-skin contact with someone with the virus. It can transmit if
- Someone with an active lesion kisses the newborn, especially on lips.
- Someone with active lesions on hand changes the diaper.
- Breastfeeding with a lesion on breast
Many times there are people who may never get sores, but the virus is present inside their body. In such cases, they themselves are unaware of the presence of the virus.
An estimated 3.7 billion people under age 50 had HSV-1 infection globally, according to the 2012 data of World Health Organization (WHO). This explains why you should not allow anyone to kiss your babies on lips.
Symptoms of Neonatal Herpes
Herpes can be fatal in newborns, especially in infants under 3 months of age. Newborns have an under-developed immune system and so they can become seriously ill if they catch the virus.
It can spread to their brain, lung, and liver and if not treated immediately, it can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, herpes can cause severe neonatal infection and can cause acute liver failure.
Many infants infected with HSV are born prematurely and subsequently have a low birth weight.
The diagnoses of cold sores are difficult in infants.
Common Signs of Herpes are:
- High-pitched cry
- Respiratory distress
- Stops feeding
If your infant displays any of these signs, consult your doctor immediately. Infants usually do not have skin lesions and by the time the diagnoses is made, many infants have developed serious complications.
When diagnoses are delayed, the mortality rate among infants is high despite antiviral therapy.
Even if the baby is undergoing antiviral therapy, he can continue to breastfeed, until the mother has lesions on breasts. Even if the mother is undergoing antiviral treatment, it is not believed to cause any harm to the baby.
Complications of Neonatal Herpes
- Learning disability
- Spasticity (muscle contraction)
How to Protect your Baby from Herpes
- The first and foremost thing is to discourage people from kissing your baby, especially on lips.
- Make sure to wash your hands before feeding or touching your baby or avoid touching your mouth or breast with your hand if you have this infection. Don’t let your baby touch the sore.
- Cover your sores to avoid accidentally touching it.Prevent dehydration in your child. If you baby doesn’t take any fluid, consult a doctor as this may cause dehydration.
- Avoid sun exposure as this may trigger a flare-up.
- Give your baby complete rest.
BMC Oral Health – Oral health behaviors and bacterial transmission from mother to child: an explorative study
American Family Physician – Neonatal Herpes Simplex Virus Infections
World Health Organization – Herpes simplex virus
Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition – Neonatal herpes simplex virus infection presenting as acute liver failure: prevalent role of herpes simplex virus type I
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