Babies have a universal trait: They’re pretty kissable. If you’re particularly fond of babies, as we are, it’s difficult to pass up the opportunity to plant a big old smooch on those little cheeks. They’re so round and soft. It’s like a moth to a flame.
But there are lots of reasons to put your lips away and back away from the baby. Some of them are innocuous (the kid’s mom would rather you didn’t, thanks) but some of them are downright scary, like how a little cold sore can turn into a full-blown case of herpes. One mom experienced firsthand how an innocent kiss can turn into a trip to the hospital, and she’s hoping her experience will keep other babies safe.
In a Facebook post that’s well on its way to going viral, Amy Stinton highlights what a case of herpes can look like when it comes to little babies. She took her 14-month-old baby boy Ollie to the doctor with what she supposed was the chicken pox. But that raised red rash isn’t the pox, it’s actually HSV-1, or herpes simplex virus Type 1, and he ended up in the hospital for a few days instead. You can see what the outcome of kissing a baby when you’ve got the virus can be.
There is more than one kind of herpes, as pretty much anyone who has ever Googled how to get rid of a cold sore knows. There’s the type Ollie contracted, which is different than HSV-2, the kind of herpes that you contract through sexual contact and can present in blisters around the genital area during what’s known as a “flare-up”
For the vast majority of people, either type of herpes is unlikely to present with complications. Even with the blisters and sores, herpes is not life-threatening and unbelievably common. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of American adults have HSV-1, while an estimate puts the rate of genital herpes at about 1 in 5 adults.
That’s obviously a lot of herpes. What’s more is that because herpes so rarely causes any serious problems in adults that are not immunocompromised — besides a lifelong stigma — and because some people are completely asymptomatic, not everyone knows they have it. When it comes to that second type of herpes, almost 90 percent of people have no idea they’re carrying the virus. For oral herpes, you’re more likely to know if you’re a carrier simply because it recurs more often than its genital cousin.
But of course, babies are not adults with healthy immune systems. They are babies with brand new immune systems, and that’s where innocent cold-sore kisses become a problem.
The chances of someone unknowingly passing a herpes infection onto a baby is very small. It’s most likely to happen when a cold sore is present or if mom’s received a genital herpes diagnosis before or during her pregnancy. So if there’s a piece of comfort you can take, it’s that it’s really unlikely for you to make any kind of herpes-related trip to the doctor out of the blue like Stinton did.
But on the other hand, it can get really serious, really quickly. Left untreated, babies who contract herpes are at risk of a brain infection, hearing or vision loss and seizures. So what does that mean for moms? If you’re pregnant and know you have herpes, it’s likely you’ve already told your doctor. If not, do it now. Your baby’s health depends on it.
When it comes to HSV-1, there’s not much to do but run interference on out-of-towners or loved ones who are sporting a cold sore or blister. If they’ve got one, there’s no kissy-kissy for them. Anyone you want in your kid’s life will understand when you tell them to come back after they’ve recovered. And anyone who doesn’t understand shouldn’t bother you too much. Keeping your baby’s health intact is far more important than their bruised feelings.
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