- Cold Sores and Babies
- What are Cold Sores?
- What Could Trigger a Cold Sore?
- How Do Cold Sores Affect Babies?
- Can Babies Get Cold Sores?
- Protecting Your Baby from a Cold Sore
- I Kissed My Baby with Cold Sores. What do I do?
- Cold Sores on Toddlers and Children
- Treating Cold Sores on Children
- Legal Issues with Cold Sores and Babies
Cold Sores and Babies
Cold sores and herpes simplex virus are no big deal for adults. They’re uncomfortable and you probably don’t want one on picture day, but they’re not dangerous. However, cold sores aren’t just a minor inconvenience for babies. In fact, cold sores can be extremely dangerous. Like many infections that seem harmless to a healthy adult, cold sores on babies can be life threatening or scarring for the infant. If you suspect that an infant has come into contact with cold sores you should contact your doctor immediately to prevent the spread of herpes simplex virus in your newborn.
This post will go over everything you need to know about cold sores and babies, what to do when you have cold sores and a newborn, and why you shouldn’t kiss a baby when you have cold sores.
If your baby does come into contact HSV cold sores it can be extremely dangerous and spread quickly. Take your baby to a pediatric Emergency Room immediately.
What are Cold Sores?
Cold sores, also called fever blisters, are small blisters on and around your lips. They’re caused by one of the herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1. That’s closely related to HSV-2, which causes genital herpes. Cold sores are typically spread by close contact such as kissing, sharing utensils, or sharing a towel with a person who has the virus.
Herpes simplex virus is extremely common with almost 9 out of every 10 people having either experienced cold sores or having herpes simplex virus with no symptoms of cold sores or otherwise. Cold sores are normal for adults and may cause some irritation but is nothing to be worried about for the average person.
HSV-1 is most contagious while the carrier has actual cold sores, but can also be spread by a carrier with no symptoms who may never get cold sores. There’s no cure for cold sores — the virus stays in your system forever. Cold sores are also typically treatable. Cold sores will go away on their own after a few days or weeks. In certain cases, your doctor may recommend an antiviral medication to speed the healing process on cold sores.
When an adult catches HSV-1 cold sores, the first outbreak is often the most severe. It may involve mouth soreness, fever, aches, sore throat, and fever in addition to the cold sores around your mouth. Later outbreaks are typically limited to the cold sores, without the more severe flu-like symptoms.
HSV-1 can affect the genitals and HSV-2 can affect the face with cold sores, so it’s important to get tested if you experience any symptoms in either area to determine which form of the virus you have.
What Could Trigger a Cold Sore?
Maybe you have never experienced cold sores or you’re not sure if it was just a pimple that last time. Reaching out to a doctor, especially if you are pregnant is important for your health even if you just suspect that you may have had cold sores. If you remember getting something similar to cold sores in the past but have not experienced it again, herpes simplex virus or cold sores tends to show up after certain triggers. If one of the below sounds familiar to you, you may have had cold sores and should have a doctor examine you for herpes simplex virus.
- a high fever with sores similar to cold sores
- cold sores that appear around the mouth during or before menstration
- cold sores that appear after being exposed to sun damage
- cold sores that appear after an injury
- cold sores that appear after feeling fatigued
- cold sores that appear after a period of depression or stress
- if you have had an immune system deficiency that has lead to cold sores around the mouth
- and sometimes pregnancy itself can trigger cold sores
How Do Cold Sores Affect Babies?
Newborn babies’ immune systems are supported by the antibodies they get from their mothers that general protect against cold sores. That means HSV-1 cold sores are very rare in newborns. When an HSV-1 cold sores infection does happen, however, it can be extremely serious as the first symptoms are not just cold sores but flu-like symptoms that a baby will not be able to handle.
Mature adult antibodies usually keep the virus isolated around the lips in cold sores, but babies’ immune systems aren’t strong enough to contain the cold sores in one area if they do get infected. The herpes simplex virus can spread to rest of the baby’s body, causing permanent and severe damage as the cold sores spread. It can spread to the baby’s eyes, causing ocular herpes simplex virus. Left untreated, ocular herpes simplex virus can cause blindness. Herpes simplex virus can spread to the baby’s brain, causing brain damage such as meningitis or cerebral palsy.
In severe cases, HPV-1 cold sores can be fatal to newborns.
Can Babies Get Cold Sores?
As mentioned above, most babies are protected by their mothers’ antibodies from cold sores. However, that protection sometimes isn’t enough. Babies typically catch cold sores in one of two ways: vertical transmission or horizontal transmission.
Vertical transmission of cold sores refers to transmission of the herpes simplex virus through the birth canal. This can happen if the mother has a genital herpes infection — remember that both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can affect the genitals. Even when the mother has no outbreak of cold sores, the herpes simplex virus may be shed from the cells of the birth canal and infect the baby, usually through the eyes or through abrasions caused by forceps. This is the most common form of transmission of cold sores for newborns.
In some very rare cases, herpes simplex virus can actually be passed through the placenta to the baby during pregnancy. This is called an “intrauterine infection” and can cause spontaneous abortion, growth retardation, scarring, and hydranencephaly. Intrauterine infections typically only occur when the mother becomes infected with HSV-1 during pregnancy.
Horizontal transmission refers to transmission of cold sores from another person after birth. This is how most adults catch cold sores. A shared toy, cup, or utensil may be the culprit. A kiss from a relative or friend with cold sores can also transmit the virus. Remember that you don’t have to have an active cold sores to be contagious.
Finally, HSV-1 may be transmitted through the mother’s breast milk if the mother is infected.
Protecting Your Baby from a Cold Sore
You can protect your baby from vertical transmission of HSV-1 cold sores by avoiding a vaginal birth. You can work with your doctor to test for the presence of herpes simplex virus in the birth canal and vagina. If the herpes simplex virus is present, you and your doctor may discuss the possibility of a scheduled C-section to protect your baby from exposure.
To avoid horizontal transmission, the first step is to keep your baby away from contact with adults and children with cold sores. The virus is most contagious when there are actual cold sores. However, those with HSV-1 can be contagious even without cold sores. That makes prevention harder.
You may choose to discourage people from kissing your baby until your baby is a few months old, but many parents find that difficult or impossible to enforce. In any case, you should always keep your baby’s toys clean and have everyone wash their hands before picking up your baby to decrease the risk of spreading cold sores and other infections.
If either parent has HSV or suspects they have had cold sores, talk to your doctor about how best to manage the risks and keep your baby safe.
I Kissed My Baby with Cold Sores. What do I do?
The most obvious symptom of a neonatal HSV-1 infection is the appearance of cold sores on the mouth, tongue, gums, lips, or throat. If you see cold sores, you should contact your pediatrician immediately.
However, not all HSV infections will cause cold sores. The infection can also cause aches, fever, trouble breathing, and swollen lymph nodes. It can also appear in your baby’s eyes as redness, sores, and swelling on the eyes and eyelids. If you see any of those signs or cold sores, you should seek immediate medical attention to treat the infection before it can cause permanent eye damage.
When you take your baby in for a suspected HSV-1 infection, your doctor may be able to identify it by looking at the cold sores. The doctor may also order tests to check for herpes simplex virus infection in your baby’s brain and liver, which may require treatment with antivirals to avoid permanent damage.
The symptoms of an HSV-1 infection are often similar to those of other, less serious infections. It can be tempting to write off minor symptoms as a cold, but remember that it’s always safer to take your baby to the doctor when in doubt. HSV-1 infections can become very serious, very fast, and the damage can be permanent.
Cold Sores on Toddlers and Children
Cold sores on toddlers and children is relatively harmless and fairly common. Although irritating and generally more severe than on an adult. When a child or toddler contracts the herpes simplex virus it is not cause for concern as their immune system unlike a newborn baby is more prepared to handle the infection and may get occasional cold sores around the mouth.
Treating Cold Sores on Children
When a child gets cold sores, especially toddlers, they can be very irritable as cold sores can be painful or irritating for the first few days of the herpes simplex virus outbreak. There are some tried and true treatments that you can use to help your child manage the pain from cold sores and some medical solutions that you can ask your doctor about.
For at home treatments of cold sores try:
- a cold compress on the cold sores
- taking a pain reliever (as directed by a doctor)
- keep a child’s lips protected from the sun to prevent cold sores
- apply an over the counter pain reliever cream
Pills to treat cold sores – ask a doctor before hand:
Ointments to treat cold sores – ask a doctor before hand:
- penciclovir (Denavir)
- docosanol (Abreva)
Legal Issues with Cold Sores and Babies
In some cases, transmission of the HSV virus to your baby could have been avoided by appropriate medical care. For example, your doctor may be at fault if she knew that you were infected with an HSV virus or had cold sores and failed to discuss the possibility of a C-section, causing your baby to contract the virus. When a doctor or other health care provider’s negligence leads to your baby contracting a serious herpes simplex virus infection, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other costs associated with your baby’s injury.