Cold Sores and Your Baby: What You Need to Know

Cold Sores and Babies

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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)

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.

If you believe your baby contracted HSV due to the negligence of a doctor or other care provider, contact an experienced birth injury attorney for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.


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49 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    My grandchild will be born tomorrow and I just came up with a cold sore on my lip yesterday. Can i or should i go to the hospital? Would it be ok if I wear a mask and not kiss the baby?

  2. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Hello, and congratulations on your new grandchild! I would recommend speaking with the doctor or hospital ahead of visiting, but cold sores are very contagious. Definitely do not kiss the baby, and make sure to thoroughly wash hands. A mask to cover your face may be helpful but every precaution must be taken to ensure that baby does not get your cold sore infection.

  3. Kris
    Kris says:

    I was diagnosed over 15 years ago with genital herpes. Recently, I had a baby and over the past month, I’ve noticed sores in my mouth and throat. I took caltrex and they went away. Today, I woke up and thought that I had bitten my lip. My 4 month old son was laying in bed with me and stuck his hand in my mouth touching the sore then put his hand in his mouth. I didn’t think much of it because as I said, I thought I had bit my lip. Tonight I looked at the single sore and googled it. It looks like a herpes sore. Please, can this affect my baby now? Is there anything I can do to prevent him from getting it??

  4. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Hello! I would consult with your doctor as soon as possible. Make sure he or she knows about it and go from there.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I have a friend who’s infant was kissed by a relative with a cold sore 20+ years ago… she became very ill, and developed cerebral palsy from it. Thank you for posting this. It is very important information.

  6. Lou chinna
    Lou chinna says:

    Hello I have a 8 month old daughter and her father wants to be able to have visited time with her but he has the hsv1 virus and some of his family members have it also. We recently had to see a referee for custody n visiting time and I was told I have to let her go with her dad. I am so upset and worried about her contracting the virus and I also have a 2 year old who is her sibling. I am being told there is nothing I can do to fight this. Please help

  7. Siya baxi
    Siya baxi says:

    I have herpes on my back. My baby is 12 days old. I am taking all precautions but when I didnt know about it I might have touched him with infected hands. I am worried as hell. I came to know about herpes five days ago. Should i be worried. I am keeping an eye on any signs of infection on him.

  8. Bunsi
    Bunsi says:

    I have HSV 1 oral which is on my lips. Will it be spread to my genital areas ? And when when i give birth to a baby will it be transmitted to the baby too ? Please reply me soon as possible.


  9. Bunsi
    Bunsi says:

    I have oral herpes which is on my lips. Will it be spread to my genital areas ? And when when i give birth to a baby will it be transmitted to the baby too ? Please reply me soon as possible.


  10. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    It’s best that you speak to your doctor about your concerns. Congratulations on your pregnancy!

  11. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I have the virus as well. I just got over an infection a few days ago and I’m due to give a csection in 2 days. I’m worried I can still give my LO the virus. Should I bring this up to my doctor?

  12. Elsa
    Elsa says:

    What if someone kisses a baby on the head with a cold sore – is the virus just transmitted through lip to lip contact?

  13. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Most doctors would probably not recommend this. As mentioned in the post, the virus can also get into baby’s eyes, and their immune system isn’t strong enough to handle it.

  14. Latrice
    Latrice says:

    I noticed a fever blister on a close friend mouth, and she mused my 8 week old on the cheek. I’m gong nuts, what should I do? Helppp

  15. Debra Elder
    Debra Elder says:

    I spent the day with my 8 week old grandson and kissed him on the cheek and forehead the next day I woke up with hsv1 cold sore starting on my lip and now I’m scared to death that he might get sick ! Is there any kind of early detection we can do to make sure he didn’t get the virus ? His mother has HSV2 and had a normal delivery and did not pass it to him , would her immune system help him to fight this ? I she starts taking Valtrex would it help him if he gets it through her breast milk?

  16. Jetta
    Jetta says:

    My daughter-in-law has the HSV virus and gets breakouts on her mouth and face. She has two daughters who also have it now (not from birth). My son (her husband) has developed Bells Palsy due to kissing his daughter with an active lesion on her mouth. My concern is that my other daughter-in-law is now pregnant and due to have her baby this September, 2017. My daughter-in-law with the herpes virus says there is no way this can be transferred to the new baby when she comes unless there is an active lesion. I’m trying to convince her that she should take extra cautions when holding the baby even when there is no active lesion. What can I do to convince her she needs to be extra careful?? Please help us.

  17. Shane
    Shane says:

    I have a doubt that I got infected with HSV 2.can I make a baby without transferring it to mother.please advise me

  18. Gabi
    Gabi says:

    A family member kissed my almost 4 week old on the mouth. She just got the bump of a cold sore today a small one but still one. I wiped babies mouth and hands with a wipe but now I’m so scared it’s too late. I have the cold sore virus in my system already does that mean my baby is immune to it?

  19. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    I was babysitting a 4 week old yesterday and today broke out with a cold sore. I didn’t kiss the baby. Should I inform the parents

  20. Jillian
    Jillian says:

    My son died of HSV1 at 9 days old. I had no idea I had hsv1 or that it was active during delivery. He got it the day he was born through a tiny bit of amniotic fluid he had swallowed during his first breath. Herpes is extremely dangerous and extremely contagious. Even being someone who had never had a coldsore before my son was born, my son is still dead from this unknown fact. LADIES! Talk to your freaking doctors about herpes and share this news! When my sons autopsy came back as Insemenated hsv1, even the wisest of doctors were shocked and has never heard of or seen this to happen before. Herpes is SERIOUS! I DO NOT have genital herpes, and NO hsv1 does not mean you will get hsv2.
    Btw, the article states that hav1 is genital and hsv2 is oral, which is wrong and backwards. Please for the love of childrens sake make sure this is corrected as lives are at risk!

    During the last trimester it IS an option to be tested for and to prevent and active hsv1 outbreak BEFORE your child is born.
    I had no idea until my son had been dead for two weeks before learning about this silent, deadly virus.
    I have been learning for years about this and have learned that even from day 1, even if you found out the second your child is born that they are born with hsv1- that does not mean they will survive. Herpes is dangerous and aggresive. Even babies filled with antibiotics still have a 90% chance to die. And the survivors are disabled for life.


  21. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Jillian: I am so very sorry to hear about your son. What an awful feeling that must have been, but thank you for sharing this and for helping to spread awareness about the dangers of herpes around newborns. As a note, I took a look at your comment regarding HSV1/HSV2, but we had that written correctly — HSV1 is oral and HSV2 is genital, however you can have symptoms in either area. Again, very sorry for your loss. Please let us know if there’s anything we here at Safe Birth Project can do to help.

  22. Veronica
    Veronica says:

    Hi, I understand that HSV-1/oral herpes is dangerous for babies when kissed outbreak or not. Is HSV-2/genital dangerous for babies? My baby is 6 weeks old and my friend with genital herpes is visiting. Should I have her not kiss him? Should I take any other precautions? Thanks!

  23. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Hi Veronica: I would suggest you speak with your doctor about any concerns. HSV-2 is most often transmitted to babies by the mother through her birth canal, if the mother has HSV-2. However, you can get genital herpes from HSV-1. It’s generally best to err on the side of caution.

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Hi, I broke out in a coldsore on my lip and have been kissing my four and a half month old son on the head all day as I thought it was just a sore lip, not realising it is a coldsore and now I’m worried sick. What should I do? Thanks.

  25. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hi, I broke out in a coldsore on my lip and have been kissing my four and a half month old son on the head all day as I thought it was just a sore lip, not realising it is a coldsore and now I’m worried sick. What should I do? Thanks.

  26. Ali
    Ali says:

    My wife is 27 weeks pregnant. She got sore cold before as well, but she just had one few days ago. We been to doctor and he said as my wife had sore cold before then we do not need to worry. What would you advice, what should we do?

  27. Ali
    Ali says:

    Sorry forgot to ask in last question, just to clear, so while baby is not born meaning in her mother womb , this virus do not affect baby? its only after baby is born then there is risk of being infected by this virus? thanks

  28. Chris
    Chris says:

    Hi Amber,

    I have a 3 1/2 month old. I recently got a cold sore on my lip and have been trying to avoid contact with her and it is the hardest thing ever. I am so scared I could give it to her that I am not even holding her at this time, which is starting to take a tole on my husband because he is doing everything. My cold sore is starting to crust over, but now I feel a tingle on my lip in another spot. I am so worried and just want this to go away. I talked to my doctor and my babies doctor and they just said not to kiss the baby. I just would never forgive myself if I spread this to her. Do you think it is ok if I hold her and just not kiss her? Since she is a little older then a newborn is it any less dangerous if she would get it? Thanks so much!

  29. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    You are absolutely fine holding her. I’m so sorry you’re going through this stress. Please listen to your doctor!

  30. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Depending on the virus, it can be passed to baby during birth (through the birth canal). I would suggest talking to your doctor again to ease your concerns, and it never hurts to get a second opinion. Good luck!

  31. Denise Forster
    Denise Forster says:

    Hi, I suffer quite severely from cold sores, my daughter is now 5 months old and I have a cold sore. I am wearing blister plaster patches, as she’s a bit older would she more resilient? thanks. Out of everything this terrifies me as it could be me that causes her harm. ????

  32. Carol
    Carol says:

    We have been absolutely diligent about not letting anyone kiss our baby … not at all at first and now only on her head, not near her face. She will be 6 months old next week. At what age can we stop worrying about this so much?

  33. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Hi Carol, our general research shows 6 months is when baby’s immune system is developed enough to not worry as much about it, however as you know, cold sores are contagious at any age. Your best bet would be consulting with your doctor!

  34. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Oral herpes can be caused by hsv1 or hsv2. The information you are posting is not accurate. The University of Washington has been studying the virus over 30 years. You can pass herpes with or without active outbreaks through asymptomatic shedding. Outdated info believed oral was only hsv1 and genital hsv2. On a side note…many new cases of genital herpes is from hsv1 through oral sex. Please give your readers accurate information.

    Please review theses accurate links about herpes and transmission.

  35. Jason and Ashley
    Jason and Ashley says:

    At this moment our baby is in NICU fighting for her life. We don’t know how this will turn out, and we certainly don’t know how she contracted HSV-1. We should know in another 24 hours if she will live. We rushed her to the ER the same day we brought her home. The doctor treated her very quickly, before he even knew the virus was present. We are waiting to know if she is going to live. The virus was discovered in her spinal tap. Please let your friends and family know how serious this is for newborns. We hate that it’s highly possible that our baby will face a lifetime of struggle because of this.

  36. Kirsty
    Kirsty says:

    Hi I have a cold sore on the bottom of my nose I have a 9 month old baby and iv been kissing him I didn’t realize how dangerous it could be what should I do??

  37. Kirsty
    Kirsty says:

    Help….. I have a cold sore and I’ve been kissing my 9 month old all morning I didn’t realize how dangerous it was x

  38. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Hello. This morning I woke up with a sore that’s close to my lip but not on it. I have a 3 month old baby and I’ve been kissing her all over the face but not the lips. I spoke to my mother and she said it’s probabl from me being all stressed out and exhausted. I’m just afraid because I looked on google and I saw the word herpes under cold sore. I don’t know a lot about herpes but when I was pregnant I had been tested for stds and the doctors told me I don’t have any. So what’s up with this cold sore then. Please help me I breastfeed my baby and I don’t want her to catch it

  39. M
    M says:

    My daughter was born December 7th. She got a cough and congestion on the 28th of December. The night of the 31st she began running a fever. I called her pediatrician and they advised me to take her to the emergency room immediately. Upon arriving being only 3 weeks old they paged the trauma team and did a full sepsis rule out. I had suspected the fever was from the cough. She test positive for rsv bronchiolitis and to my shock hsv-1. I never dreamed she would test positive for herpes. I had a scheduled c section didn’t labor at all and have never had a cold sore. We spent a week in the PICU before going home on home health care and I continued running anti-virals through her PICC line for another week after that. At three weeks old my poor baby endured x-rays, a lumbar puncture, all the blood work in the world, a catheter, swabs of all kids, multiple iv’s, picc line being ran and more. I’m lucky and grateful for the trauma team in the hospital that night. I owe them my life and my daughters. Please do not hsv lightly with a newborn. My daughter managed to catch it and we don’t even know how. It can and does kill.

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I have a 5 month old LO and she had a 5 year old sister that gets cold sores a couple times a year in the winter. She doesn’t currently have a cold sore, and I’m sure if we are to visually see one that we will not allow her to kiss the baby, HOWEVER, she does kiss her and just on the cheek .. NEVER on the lips, is my baby at risk still? I’ve seen so many posts lately about babies getting meningitis, dying, etc from being kissed and it worries me even though her sister is a small child, and I don’t want to stop her from kissing her and showing affection, I also don’t want to offend their dad by telling him I don’t want her to kiss her sister ..

  41. Christina
    Christina says:

    I appreciate this site is trying to provide information to help keep babies safe however the information on this page is negligible. If a newborn presents any of the symptoms listed above the baby should be taken to a pediatric Emergency Room immediately. HSV spreads quickly and dangerously there’s no time to call a pediatrician or wait for a doctor’s visit.

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