Cold Sores in Babies

Cold Sores in Babies

As we all know, newborn babies do not develop strong immune systems immediately. Their bodies are still in the midst of the human development process and are adapting to the changes they face in the outside world. Thus, cold sores in newborn babies with weak immune systems can be extremely dangerous. Both babies and younger children can also acquire cold sores from an adult carrier who they can come in close contact with. Cold sores tend to come back often or occasionally. Outbreaks can be triggered by an illness, sun exposure, a weakened immune system, and hormonal fluctuations.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are small, fluid-filled blisters that commonly develop on the edge of the lips. Before the blisters appear, tingling, itching, or burning sensations may occur in the affected area. The blisters typically pop, ooze, and form a crust over the surface after a few days. Cold sores usually go away within two to four weeks.

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Cold sores are infections caused by herpes simplex virus, specifically the HSV-1 type. The other type of herpes simplex virus, which is the HSV-2 causes genital herpes. Herpes simplex is highly contagious and can easily spread through skin-to-skin contact. Other ways that the virus spreads include oral sex and sharing of personal belongings such as towels or lip balms. The virus is very contagious during an outbreak and can still spread even if there are no visible symptoms.

For pregnant women who have cold sores resulting from the herpes simplex virus, it is possible to spread the virus to their babies during pregnancy and childbirth. Pregnant women should always inform their doctor if they have a history of herpes. If a pregnant woman has an active genital herpes, a cesarean section is likely performed to decrease the baby's risk of having the infection.

What are the risks?

Newborn babies who are in their first three to four weeks of life have the highest risk of experiencing severe symptoms if they acquire the herpes virus. The herpes simplex virus can cause brain damage in newborns, which can result in fever, seizures, irritability, very low energy, and poor feeding. Babies with neonatal herpes can be very ill, and their symptoms are much more harmful than when the herpes is obtained during childhood. In severe cases of neonatal herpes, the skin, lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain can be affected by the infection and can be life-threatening.

However, herpes infections become less dangerous as the baby grows. Herpes is considered a fairly common condition in childhood. If an infant comes into contact with a cold sore, the symptoms of the herpes simplex virus are typically the same in adults. Aside from mouth sores, children and older babies could also develop blisters on the back of the throat, tongue, and inside of the cheeks. These blisters may be painful and make the child prickly. Cold treats such as popsicles can help children relieve these symptoms. Acetaminophen can also help with the pain or discomfort. It is important to monitor younger children and babies when they have the herpes virus, as it can spread to their eyes if they rub their eyes after touching an open sore.

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)

The herpes simplex virus causes infections that affect the face, mouth, skin, genitals, and buttocks. HSV is the most common chronic viral infection. Herpes simplex virus has two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. 

HSV-1 causes cold sores around the mouth or lips. That is why it is also commonly called as oral herpes. The HSV-2, on the other hand, causes genital herpes. However, both types of herpes are able to cause an infection on any parts of the body. The occurrence of an HSV-1 infection in adults is 67 percent worldwide.

HSV is a contagious virus that can spread from one person to another through direct contact. For babies and children, they get an early contact from an infected adult. The virus is then carried throughout their lives. HSV-1 can be transmitted through direct contact such as kissing as well as contact from the things of an infected person such as using the same utensils, towels, or lip balms. The possibility of acquiring the virus is high when the infected person experiences an outbreak.

The first cold sore infection commonly happens in childhood without any symptoms. During the first infection, the virus invades the most inner layer of the skin that lines the mouth. After the infection, the virus goes into the nerve roots where it will stay for the rest of your life. In most cases, the virus is inactive and will not cause any symptoms. However, when the virus becomes activated, the virus will then travel from the nerve sheath to the skin, which will cause blisters in the mouth region.

The virus is most contagious when there are active blisters present. Once the sores have dried, the contagion is decreased. However, the HSV infection can still be passed to another person even in the absence of cold sores. The reason is that the saliva may still contain the virus even if there are no sores.

How are cold sores in babies treated?

As in adults, cold sores in children heal on their own within two to four weeks, even without treatment.

Babies who are at risk of developing complications from the herpes simplex virus are given an antiviral treatment in the hospital. To shorten an infection and reduce the severity of symptoms, antiviral creams and tablets are often prescribed. Antiviral creams help in relieving the symptoms, while the tablets help reduce the duration of the cold sores. Appropriate doses of a mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are often preferred by pediatricians, considering the age of the child.

How can you protect your baby from cold sores?

You do not have to completely isolate yourself from your baby if you have a cold sore outbreak. However, you should do everything in your power to limit the baby’s exposure to your cold sores. You should not kiss the child, should keep your sores covered, and practice frequent handwashing. When the sore is covered by a scab, it is no longer contagious, and therefore safe to resume normal contact with your children.