small child covers mouth
small child covers mouth
small child covers mouth

Birth-acquired Herpes

What is herpes?

Herpes is a contagious viral disease. There are two different strains of herpes simplex viruses:

  • Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is usually associated with infections of the lips, mouth, and face and is spread by infected saliva, via the infection site or toys, cups, cosmetics, etc. Most cases are acquired in childhood. HSV-1 often causes lesions inside or around the mouth, such as cold sores (fever blisters). Individuals with a cold sore should avoid contact with newborn infants. Caregivers with a cold sore should wear a surgical mask and scrupulously wash their hands.

  • Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is sexually transmitted. Symptoms include genital ulcers or sores. The virus can also lead to complications such as infection of the lining of the brain and the brain itself (meningoencephalitis) or infection of the eye (especially the conjunctiva and cornea). Cross-infection of type 1 and 2 viruses may occur from oral-genital contact. The herpes virus can infect the fetus and cause abnormalities. A mother who is infected with herpes may transmit the virus to her newborn during vaginal delivery, especially if she has an active infection at the time of delivery. It's possible for the virus to be transmitted even when there are no symptoms or visible sores.

Symptoms of Birth-acquired Herpes

  • Fluid filled blisters

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Lethargy

  • Seizures

  • Jaundice

  • Bleeding easily

  • Coma


Diagnosis of herpes can be made on the basis of the appearance or culture of the lesion. Examination may also show enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck or groin. Laboratory tests, including spinal fluid and urine cultures, may also be used. 


There is no cure for herpes, but there is treatment of its symptoms. Herpes virus infections in infants are generally treated with intravenous medications. Acyclovir is the most common antiviral medicine used for this purpose. A course of several weeks may be required. Infants with systemic herpes or encephalitis frequently have poor outcomes despite antiviral medications and early intervention. Infants with the skin disease may have recurrences after therapy is finished.

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