A newborn baby girl in Iowa died on Tuesday after contracting the HSV-1 herpes virus through a kiss. The virus, which is the same one that causes cold sores, led to meningitis, a swelling of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord.
Mariana Sifrit was born on July 1 and was by all accounts healthy. Six days after her birth, her parents Nicole and Shane got married. Hours after the wedding, they said that Mariana became lethargic and stopped feeding, so they rushed her to the hospital.
“She had quit breathing and all her organs just started to fail,” Nicole said to WHO TV.
Once they arrived at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, doctors discovered Mariana had contracted meningitis HSV-1, a herpes virus that can be transmitted by an infected person even if they don’t have an open sore. Both Nicole and Shane tested negative for the virus, and Mariana’s doctors concluded that she likely caught the virus from a kiss. She was 18 days old when she died.
Dr. Marina Salvadori, a paediatrics professor at Western University and paediatric infectious diseases consultant, told Global News that although this isn’t the most common form of passing on the herpes virus, it is possible to infect a newborn this way.
“The vast majority of babies who contract herpes get it in the birth canal,” she says. “But it can also be transmitted by a kiss on the mucous membranes or hands” because babies have a propensity for putting their hands in their mouths.
Mothers who have recurrent genital herpes, but don’t know it, transmit it to five per cent of babies, while babies born from mothers who contracted genital herpes just before delivery have a 50 per cent chance of contracting the disease.
There are several types of herpes viruses, including chicken pox, and when the virus first appears, it makes the entire body sick. Once that passes, the virus continues to live in a particular cell type in the body — chicken pox lives in the back nerves, which is why it can come back in adulthood as shingles.
“Herpes lives in the nerve cells around the mouth, which can come back as a cold sore, but the virus is present in the saliva so it can be easily transmitted even without open sores,” Salvadori says. “I see it in toddlers who have cut their hand and receive a kiss from their parent — it shows up on their finger.”
She says to avoid passing infectious viruses on to newborns, wash your hands before handling the baby, and avoid kissing the baby on their mucous membranes (eyes, nose and mouth) and hands, especially if you have a history of cold sores.
“Small babies of six to eight weeks are very vulnerable and fragile, and they’re susceptible to these viruses,” she says. “If you must kiss a baby, do it on the back of their head.”
On Tuesday, Nicole posted the following note to her Facebook page:
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