Accidentally Kiss a Baby With Cold Sore? Here’s What To Do
It’s our natural instinct to hold a newborn baby close and gently kiss her head. But unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, showing your love this way can have potentially dangerous consequences for children under the age of 12 months.
More than 66% of adults are infected with the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), a highly contagious disease that causes cold sores and spreads all too easily through close contact. Accidentally kissing a baby while you have a cold sore is a mistake you want to avoid, so here’s what you need to know.
Can Cold Sores Be Spread By Kissing?
Cold sores spread easily through kissing. In fact, this is one of the most common methods of HSV-1 transmission.
It’s never safe to kiss someone, especially a baby, if you have a cold sore on or around your mouth. You should wait until all symptoms have fully disappeared before kissing, even if it’s “just” the top of a baby’s head.
The HSV-1 virus, which causes cold sores, enters the body through any break in the skin, even a small cut. The virus then lies dormant in nerve cells until activated by some sort of trigger.
Some people with HSV-1 remain asymptomatic most of their lives and rarely, if ever, experience outbreaks. Others suffer an intense initial outbreak followed by regular monthly or yearly outbreaks throughout their lives.
Though it’s possible to spread HSV-1 when you’re asymptomatic, the virus is significantly more contagious during an active outbreak. This is why you should never touch or treat cold sores with bare hands. It also explains why kissing is off-limits until your cold sores heal completely.
What To Do if You Accidentally Kissed a Baby With a Cold Sore
If you’re so enthralled with the adorable baby in front of you that you accidentally kiss her while you have a cold sore, take decisive action to protect her health.
First, wash the kissed area immediately with soap and water. There’s no guarantee this will prevent infection, but it doesn’t hurt to clean the area of contact, just in case.
Next, monitor the baby closely for unusual behavior or symptoms. Call your doctor for professional advice as well. The herpes virus can cause many different symptoms in young babies, so be sure to seek medical attention for anything out of the ordinary, including:
- Poor appetite
- Blisters and rashes
Babies Are Especially Vulnerable to Cold Sores
Cold sores are an inconvenience for adults, but they pose a huge risk for babies. Young children, especially under the age of 12 months, have immature immune systems that are still developing. As a result, HSV-1 can easily spread throughout the body without any opposition.
It’s possible for the herpes virus to cause meningitis, a rare but dangerous condition that causes inflammation of the tissue that covers the spinal cord and brain. Some herpes infections in babies also turn into viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can cause brain damage or death. Such cases are very rare, but they’re an example of why it’s important to be vigilant regarding cold sores and infants.
Signs a Baby Has Been Infected
HSV-1 may cause a number of vague or seemingly unrelated symptoms in young babies, so it’s important to watch out for more than the typical adult cold sore symptoms.
If you’re concerned your baby has been infected, remain observant for symptoms of meningitis and encephalitis, since they are the two more serious potential complications related to HSV-1 infection in babies.
The symptoms of meningitis in babies include:
- Lack of energy
- Decreased appetite
- Sleepiness and difficulty waking from sleep
The symptoms of encephalitis are similar but also include the following:
- Bulging in the soft spot of the skull
- Body stiffness
- Nausea and vomiting
As soon as you notice any of the above symptoms, take your baby to the emergency room immediately.
Tips To Avoid Spreading the Herpes Virus
HSV-1 is a relatively harmless — albeit frustrating — infection for adults, but it can be extremely dangerous in newborn babies. This is why it’s critical to take precautions around infants if you have an HSV-1 infection and to act quickly if you suspect your baby is infected.
Be Mindful Around Babies
The herpes virus is contagious regardless of whether you currently show symptoms, but it’s virtually invisible during asymptomatic shedding. Asymptomatic shedding occurs when HSV-1 is present on the skin but without visible symptoms. The virus “sheds” from the skin and can spread to others. This is different from symptomatic shedding, which occurs when someone infected with HSV-1 experiences an active cold sore outbreak.
According to research, at least 70% of people experience asymptomatic shedding of HSV-1 at least once a month. Many people may even shed HSV-1 without symptoms more than six times per month. This is why it’s so important to be extremely cautious around babies, regardless of whether you have an active cold sore or not.
If you know you will soon have close or extended close-quarters contact with a young baby, get tested for HSV-1 beforehand. An immunoglobulin G (IgG) blood test performed by a medical professional is a simple and reliable testing method. If you test positive, then you can act accordingly for the safety of the baby.
Set Ground Rules
If you’re concerned about other people spreading HSV-1 to your newborn baby, don’t hesitate to set ground rules. You can ask acquaintances and family friends to remain a few feet away from your baby and avoid touching her. Select a few loved ones you trust to hold and snuggle your baby in order to keep the circle small. This will significantly reduce the likelihood of any herpes transmission to your baby.
Adhere to Best Hygiene Practices
Sometimes the simplest acts are the most powerful. Implement these hygiene best practices to ensure you don’t accidentally spread HSV-1 to a susceptible infant.
- Keep your cold sores clean and dry.
- Avoid touching your sores.
- Wash your hands immediately and thoroughly after any possible contact with sores.
- DO NOT pick at sores, since this will increase the risk of spreading the virus to others.
Take Preventative Measures Against Cold Sores
If you know you have an HSV-1 infection and are at risk for cold sore outbreaks, take strategic action to prevent the emergence of new cold sores.
You may decide to take an antiviral medication such as acyclovir or valacyclovir. These time-tested antiviral prescription drugs slow or even stop the spread of the herpes virus by interfering with its DNA replication and are safe during breast feeding according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is a simple and proven way to prevent repeated outbreaks and protect those around you.
It’s also important to avoid triggers known to reactivate the herpes virus and cause outbreaks. Consider these prevention techniques for best results:
- Improve your sleep habits.
- Avoid excessive sun exposure.
- Take probiotics.
- Eat foods high in lean protein and omega 3 fatty acids.
- Use light therapy like the Luminance RED.
Use a Separate Towel Than Your Baby
According to the book Managing Herpes by the American Social Health Association, herpes transmission through objects is possible, but not likely. The life of the virus on an inanimate object is estimated to be a few hours. After that, the virus weakens and loses its ability to invade new cells.
So while it’s unlikely that sharing a towel with your infant will spread the herpes virus to her, it’s best to avoid the possibility altogether. Use a separate bath towel and washcloth than your baby to stay as safe as possible.