Can You Be Born With Herpes?

Herpes is a common event. According to the CDC (the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), herpes affects about 1 out of every 6 people. It is a sexually transmitted disease that is caused by being infected with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). One of the main questions people ask about this disease is, "Can you be born with herpes?" This article will attempt to address that.

Can You Be Born With Herpes?

The answer is "yes".

Babies can get herpes from an infection with herpes simplex virus. This is how:

  • Women with herpes virus can pass it to the fetus in the womb.
  • Women can have an active infection with herpes and can give it to their babies at the time of a vaginal birth. The baby comes in contact with the virus while passing through the birth canal.Mothers who have inactive herpes at the time of delivery can rarely but still give the herpes virus infection to the infant at the time of their birth.
  • The baby can come in contact with oral cold sores and can get herpes infection. The virus is basically the same as genital herpes but stays around the mouth and lips of the mother who then kisses the baby, giving the baby herpes virus infection.

This means there are herpes virus infections in newborns through the following routes:

  • Exposure in utero, which is called congenital herpes.
  • In the passage through the birth canal, in which it is called birth-acquired herpes.
  • After the birth, the infant can get postpartum herpes, which can happen when the baby is in close contact with a person who has herpes virus lesions.

What Are the Symptoms of Herpes in Infants?

After you know the answer to "Can you be born with herpes", you may just wonder about the symptoms that will appear. The symptoms are different than when adults get the disease. Here are some symptoms:

1.   No Symptoms

The baby can be infected with the herpes simplex virus and can be completely asymptomatic. Only a blood test will reveal the presence of the HSV in the system. Even if the baby has no symptoms at all, he or she can pass the infection on to another person via blood or saliva.

2.   Having Lesions

The baby can have herpes at the time of birth or after birth and can develop blisters or herpes lesions. These can lead to sores in the mouth, all over the skin, or in the genital area. The infant will have an outbreak that can show itself as having irritated and red skin. The blister forms a few days later. After a while, the blister will burst open, yielding fluid and finally becoming scabs that crust over and heals. The fluid from the lesion can be a clear fluid, blood or purulent.

3.   Evidence of Illness

According to the New York State Department of Health, the infant may develop mild symptoms of herpes virus illness between 2 and 12 days following the exposure to the virus. Symptoms can include having a low grade fever (about 100.4 degrees or more) and will not be interested in eating. This can lead to worsened symptoms, such as a high fever, lethargy, and seizures. According to the NIH, seizures can happen because the brain is inflamed by the virus, resulting in encephalitis. Encephalitis is serious and can lead to nervous system disorders and brain problems. It can be lethal if left untreated.

4.   Having a Systemic infection

According to the NIH, an infant can develop a disseminated herpes infection, in which the infection has spread throughout the baby’s body. This kind of infection can lead to damage of the lungs, kidneys, brain, and liver. This condition is quite often lethal.

5.   Having Intrauterine Herpes

In rare circumstances, the infant can develop herpes inside the uterus before birth. In such cases, the major symptoms are brain damage, skin lesions on the baby, and eye infections with herpes. The eye infection can result in inflammation of the seeing part of the eye, which is called the retina.

6.   Other Symptoms

If a baby gets herpes, other symptoms can develop. These include difficulty breathing, easy bruising, enlarged spleen or liver, coma, kidney failure, jaundice, shock or low body temperature. In a newborn infant, this can mean the baby will show cyanosis of the skin, yellow eyes or skin, nasal flaring, grunting while breathing, and period of apnea, in which the baby stops breathing. Other less serious symptoms include a rash or increase in fussiness.

How to Treat Herpes in Infants

Just knowing the answer to "Can you be born with herpes" is not enough. Since it is possible, you should know how it is treated. The usual treatment given is IV acyclovir. This is the most likely drug that will be used in an infant with herpes. The baby may need to take the medication for several weeks before they are healed.

You can also treat the side effects of neonatal herpes, such as seizures and shock. These babies are very sick and need to be treated in a neonatal intensive care unit. Babies who have systemic herpes may not get better with treatment and can have more health risks as a result. If they get disseminated herpes, they may develop a coma, neurologic complications or even death.

While birth-acquired herpes may be able to be treated, the virus is never completely eradicated from the body. The herpes virus will remain in the baby’s body for the rest of their lives but will lie dormant in many situations. If the immune system becomes suppressed, the baby may become re-infected and will develop complications, such as blindness, seizures, encephalitis, respiratory infections, and inflammation of the eye.

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