Written by Angela Silva
You may have heard of a recent tragedy involving an infant who was kissed on the lips by a relative who carried the herpes simplex (HSV-1) virus. Upon noticing sores around the infant’s mouth her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she was treated for 5 days for the infection. Fortunately she recovered, but other infants have not been as lucky.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics between 1,500 and 2,200 babies under 1 month of age become infected with the herpes virus every year in the US, and, when untreated, is fatal 85 percent of the time. Most of these infections are caused by the HSV-2 virus, which causes genital herpes, passed from mother to infant during delivery. However approximately 30 percent of these infections are from the HSV-1 virus. This virus causes oral infections, mostly cold sores.
Although 85 percent of the population carries the herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) according to the WHO, it can be deadly to a young infant with an underdeveloped immune system. The virus can cause liver and brain damage and, ultimately, death in infants less than 3 months of age. Even if a cold sore isn’t present, the virus can still be transmitted through saliva and cause an infection. Once an individual has been infected with the HSV-1 virus it remains in their body forever, either dormant or active, and has no cure.
The alarming story above may have many parents wondering if it’s safe to kiss their infants on the lips if they’ve ever had a cold sore. The reality is you run the risk of transmitting the virus with every kiss or exchange that involves the mouth as there is no sure way to know if the virus is active or dormant when a cold sore isn’t present. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
If you do have an outbreak and will be around a small infant, make sure to wash your hands before and after touching the infant. Wearing a mask is also smart to ensure the virus won’t be transferred from your mouth or nose to your hands, which can then touch and infect the baby. Of course if you do have a visible cold sore it’s important to be extra vigilant about hand-washing and avoiding touching your mouth.
So while there isn’t a black and white answer to the question of whether you should kiss your child on the lips, it’s important to assess your personal situation to ensure that kissing those sweet baby lips and cheeks doesn’t put your baby’s health at risk.