Maria O’Neill believes it was mother’s instinct that saved her son. Parker was 16 months old when he developed a rash in August. Several doctors’ visits resulted in nothing more than a prescription for a topical cream, but young Parker was suffering from something much more dangerous — the herpes virus, which he contracted through a kiss from someone with a cold sore.
“He had a fever about two weeks leading up to these events, which progressed into a rash,” O’Neill said. “I went to the doctors twice, but they just gave me cream for him.”
The Northern Ireland resident took to Facebook earlier this month to tell Parker’s story in the hopes that it would serve as a warning to other parents of young children.
“I wasn’t going to put it up on Facebook, but I saw other people who had done it before me and I just thought it’ll be worth it if I can help someone.”
O’Neill, 22, says doctors told her Parker contracted the virus from a kiss or a touch from someone who had an active cold sore. Herpes (HSV-1) is a highly contagious infection that is mainly transmitted by oral-to-oral contact, although it can be largely asymptomatic. When the virus does emerge, it usually presents as a cold sore or other ulcers in or around the mouth. It is transmitted through the mouth or saliva and can be passed on by kissing the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). It is estimated that 67 per cent of people under 50 have the HSV-1 virus.
In an interview with Global News in July, Dr. Marina Salvadori, a paediatrics professor at Western University and pediatric infectious diseases consultant, said that while a kiss is an unconventional way for a baby to contract herpes, it is possible.
“The vast majority of babies who contract herpes get it in the birth canal,” she said. “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.
Despite being initially told by doctors that Parker was suffering from a viral rash (two subsequent visits resulted in an eczema diagnosis), she says her mother’s intuition told her it was something more. She described his rash as “red blotches felt like sandpaper,” and says he started getting blisters all over his body. It wasn’t until she took him to the emergency room in a last-ditch effort to get answers that Parker was diagnosed with herpes.
“The doctor told me that it was from the cold sore virus and that he’d got it by the kiss or the touch of someone with the virus,” she said. “He was immediately put on a drip and he had to stay in hospital for a week — he had three different antibiotics and one antiviral medicine. It could have been fatal if we didn’t catch it in time.”
Although Parker has mostly recovered from the episode, O’Neill says he now suffers from eczema and anaemia.
“I haven’t stopped kissing him, and neither has his father, as we do not have the cold sore in our bodies,” she said. “But I would never kiss Parker on the lips and I’m very wary of strangers or even people I know well because I don’t know who gave it to him.”
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