One baby’s harrowing battle with the herpes simplex 1 virus is making some new parents reconsider just how close visitors should get to their newborns.
Like most new moms I know, I stocked up on hand sanitzers and antibacterial soaps after my baby was born. For myself and my husband, yes, but also for the scores of visitors who streamed through our apartment hoping to snuggle and smooch our brand-new son. Because when we brought our boy home from the hospital, I suddenly became aware of just how germy our little world was.
Turns out, clean hands may not have been the only thing I should have been worried about. A mom in the U.K. recently posted a frightening story on Facebook that’s making some new parents reconsider just how close visitors should get to their newborns.
The scary saga began earlier this month, when family and friends stopped by Claire Henderson’s home to visit her 1-month-old daughter, Brooke. When one of the visitors kissed the little girl’s face, they unknowingly transmitted the herpes simplex virus 1 to her. While the virus is mostly annoying in adults—usually cold sores around the mouth, if anything—it can be devastating, sometimes even fatal, for very young newborns. If left unchecked, this very common but highly contagious virus can cause severe infections; brain, lung and liver disease; and sores on the skin and eyes, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In fact, the new parents didn’t realize what was going on until one night, when they noticed Brooke had a cold sore around her mouth and swollen lips.
Henderson remembered an article a friend sent her months ago about the dangers of cold sores in babies and whisked her kiddo to the hospital. Doctors there confirmed the infant had herpes simplex virus 1—there were also sores in the back of her throat—but luckily, tests ruled out any damage to the brain or liver. After five days on an anti-viral drip, Brooke was able to return home.
Still, Henderson is quick to point out that the story could have ended another way had she not read that article. “It could have easily spread and—worst case—been fatal,” she told BuzzFeed
Which is why she posted the story and photos on Facebook—to educate parents, not scare them. “I know this sounds like I am scaremongering but if my friend had not told me about this my baby girl could have been very seriously ill,” she wrote. The post has since gone viral, racking up more than 46,000 shares at the time of this writing.
Though the odds of a visitor transmitting the virus to your child are fairly low—in most cases, the mother passes antibodies on to her baby in utero—the fact is, herpes simplex virus 1 has claimed lives. Luckily, you can lower your child’s odds by asking guests to always wash their hands before and after touching the baby. During the first month of life, also ask visitors to avoid kissing around your infant’s mouth and eye area. And request that people with cold sores steer clear of your kiddo until the lesions are gone.
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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.