What Is Birth-Acquired
herpes is a herpes virus infection that an infant gets while in the womb. The
infection can also develop during or shortly after birth. Babies with
birth-acquired herpes get the infection from mothers who are infected with
genital herpes. Birth-acquired herpes is sometimes also called “congenital
herpes.” The word “congenital” refers to any condition that is present from
are born with herpes may have a skin infection, a system-wide infection (called
“systemic herpes”), or both. Systemic herpes is more dangerous and can cause a
variety of serious issues. These issues may include brain damage, breathing
problems, and seizures.
Boston Children’s Hospital, herpes occurs in approximately
30 out of every 100,000 births. It’s a serious condition and can be life-threatening
if it leads to encephalitis (brain inflammation) or disseminated herpes (when
the entire body becomes infected with herpes).
Causes of Birth-Acquired
simplex virus causes birth-acquired herpes. After someone recovers from herpes,
the virus lies dormant in their body for long periods of time before it flares
up and symptoms appear. When the virus reactivates, it’s called an active
infection. Women who have active herpes infections are more likely to pass the
virus on to their babies during a vaginal birth. The infant comes into contact
with herpes blisters in the birth canal, which can cause them to become
have a nonactive herpes infection at the time of delivery can also transmit
herpes to their child, according to the Office on Women’s Health. However, the chances of passing
it on to the baby are much lower.
note that your infant could also get herpes through contact with cold sores.
Cold sores on the lips and around the mouth are caused by another form of the
herpes simplex virus. Someone who has a cold sore can pass the virus on to
others through kissing and other close personal contact.
Recognizing the Symptoms of
of birth-acquired herpes usually appear within the first few weeks of the
child’s life and may be present at birth. Birth-acquired herpes is easiest to
identify when it appears as a skin infection. The baby may have clusters of
fluid-filled blisters on their torso or around their eyes. The blisters, called
vesicles, are the same type of blisters that appear on the genital regions of
adults with herpes. The vesicles may burst and crust over before healing. An
infant can be born with the blisters or develop the sores a week after birth.
form of congenital herpes affects more than just the baby’s skin and can cause
serious complications, such as seizures. The herpes simplex virus can also
cause a dangerous condition known as encephalitis, an inflammation of the
brain. Encephalitis may lead to brain damage and spinal cord injuries. The herpes
simplex virus can further attack the body and cause a disseminated herpes
infection. In this case, the disease might affect the baby’s vital organs,
causing difficulty breathing and interruption in breathing
causing jaundice (a yellowish discoloration in the baby’s eyes and skin)
nervous system, causing seizures, shock, and hypothermia
birth-acquired herpes might also appear extremely tired and have trouble
Your doctor will
take samples of the blisters and spinal cord fluid to determine if herpes is
the cause of illness. A blood or urine test may also be used. Further
diagnostic testing might include MRI scans of the baby’s head to check for
virus can be treated, but not cured. This means the virus will remain in your
child’s body throughout their life. However, the symptoms can be managed. Your
child’s pediatrician will likely treat the infection with antiviral medications
given through an IV (a needle or tube that goes into a vein). Acyclovir is the most commonly used
antiviral medication for birth-acquired herpes. Treatment usually spans a few
weeks and may include other medications to control seizures or treat shock.
prevent herpes by practicing safe sex. Condoms can minimize exposure to an
active herpes outbreak, thus preventing transmission of the virus. You should
also talk to your partner about their sexual history and ask if they have ever
had herpes. You can further limit your risk by getting tested for herpes.
If you’re pregnant
and have herpes or have had it in the past, discuss your situation with your
doctor well before your due date. You may be given medicine towards the end of
your pregnancy to help reduce the chance of passing on herpes to your baby. You
may also be able to have a cesarean delivery, which can lower the risk of
passing herpes on to your baby. In a cesarean delivery, the baby is delivered
through incisions made in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. This keeps the child
from coming into contact with the virus in the birth canal.
inactive at times, but it can come back repeatedly even after treatment. Complications
associated with birth-acquired herpes include:
- eye inflammation
- seizure disorders
- respiratory illnesses
systemic herpes infections may not even respond to treatment and can possibly face
several additional health risks. Disseminated birth-acquired herpes may be
life-threatening and can cause neurological problems or coma.
is no cure for herpes, the virus will stay in the child’s body. Parents and
caretakers must watch for signs or symptoms of herpes throughout the child’s
life. When the child is old enough, they will need to learn how to prevent
spreading the virus to others.