Kissing a baby can cause serious health problems
Newborn babies are adorable. From their precious faces to their tiny features, it’s understandable that both adults and children want to hold, cuddle and kiss them. But a quick kiss on a baby’s mouth can unwittingly leave a child with a lifelong infection that, for a newborn, can cause serious health problems.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1, or oral herpes) is the virus that causes sores and blisters on the lips and inside the mouth, commonly called cold sores or fever blisters. In adults, this virus does not typically pose a health threat, but in infants, herpes type 1 can cause severe infections including encephalitis, brain, lung and liver disease, as well as skin and eye sores, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics website healthychildren.org.
“Newborn babies have extremely fragile immune systems for the first three months of life. For some infants, a herpes type 1 infection is extremely serious, especially when it affects the brain, lungs and liver, and will require hospitalization and intensive care,” says Dr. Patricia M Notario, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. She says that although rare, even with proper medical attention and medication, the virus in newborns can cause death.
“The herpes virus is extremely contagious. It is spread through saliva and direct contact with a herpes sore,” says Dr. Notario. Common symptoms include mouth sores, fever and swollen, tender lymph glands.
“Once infected, the infant will be a carrier of the virus for life,” explains Dr. Notario. “The virus remains in the nerve cells of the body in an inactive form, like hibernation, and an infected person will likely experience additional cold sores when the virus becomes active periodically over a lifetime. Outbreaks of cold sores can happen, for instance, when a person is sick and runs a fever, is exposed to the sun and during periods of high stress or extreme fatigue.”
According to the World Health Organization, up to two-thirds of people under the age of 50, or 67 percent of the population, are infected with HSV-1. “In many cases, people who are infected have very mild or no symptoms, so they may not be aware they have the virus,” Dr. Notario explains.
She says that even if a person does not have active symptoms or a visible cold sore, the virus can still be active in saliva.
“For this reason, I encourage people not to kiss a child of any age on the lips and to always provide every child separate toothbrushes, utensils and drinking glasses,” says Dr. Notario. She recommends that you contact your pediatrician if your child experiences any symptoms of a cold sore.
About the Author
Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”