When it comes to protecting our little ones, we are all the same.
Even a tiny scratch on your baby’s body may give you sleepless nights and a slight cough might trigger all sorts of worrisome thoughts. It’s not easy caring for a child. But for a parent, it’s the most fulfilling job in the world.
It is only natural that parents absolutely love it when others dote on their infants, calling them “cute”, “adorable” and many more befitting adjectives.
Your heart probably fills with joy when family, friends and even strangers are smitten with your little bundle of joy. They may want to squeeze your baby’s cheek lightly, pick them up in their arms and even give them a smooch.
As parents, we’ll go to any length to protect our babies from harm. However, there are still some ways we might be exposing them to illness and disease without realizing it. One such way is through mouth-to-mouth contact with another person.
Yes, if you allow people to kiss your baby on the lips, you are exposing them to a grave degree of danger.
In September 2015, British mother Claire Henderson posted a picture of her 1-month-old daughter, Brooke, with a visible mouth and face disease, accompanied by a warning that would shake many parents of newborn babies to their core.
A stranger visiting Brooke in the hospital had kissed her on the lips. The stranger did not know that she was infected with the herpes simplex virus at the time and had unknowingly passed the infection onto little Brooke by kissing her.
While the herpes simplex virus is not a serious illness for an adult to fight, that is hardly the case with an infant.
“Please share this with every new mum and pregnant woman you know,” Brooke’s mom wrote on her Facebook post. “Before 3 months old, a baby cannot fight the herpes virus. If a baby contracts this, it can cause liver and brain damage and lead to death.”
“…DO NOT let anyone kiss your new-born’s mouth, even if they don’t look like they have a cold sore – 85% of the population carry the virus. And if someone had a cold sore ask them to stay away until it has gone. Everyone who I have spoken to had not heard of this before and so I felt it was important to share Brooke’s story and raise awareness to stop anyone else going through what we have this week,” she further wrote.
In another similarly devastating case, Charlotte and Mohamed lost their 11-day-old baby girl, Mira, in 2008 after she developed a cold sore on her lower lip and succumbed to the herpes simplex virus a few days later.
No amount of clarity was achieved in the case of Mira and how she came to contract the virus. What did, however, become certain was this: There is a gross lack of awareness about this issue and it needs to be addressed by the medical community.
In another tragedy, 2-month-old Kaiden McCormick succumbed to multiple organ failure after contracting the herpes simplex virus from his father through mouth-to-mouth kissing in 2013.
What is the herpes simplex virus?
Herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) is an extremely contagious disease and highly common around the world.
Although HSV-1 can also affect the genitals, it is primarily an oral disease that affects the lips, mouth and often the face. It manifests in symptoms known as cold sores that first begin to appear on the lips and in or around the mouth.
It usually occurs through mouth-to-mouth contact and is extremely common in children.
Adults with HSV-1 may feel a burning or itching sensation around the mouth before developing the cold sores.
However, even before these symptoms begin to present themselves, the virus may well be settled in the person’s system, and any oral contact can transfer the virus to someone else.
Therefore, even if adults do not complain of or display such symptoms, mouth-to-mouth contact with an infant should still be a strict NO-NO.
According to the World Health Organization, 67 percent of people under the age of 50 are infected with HSV-1.
What symptoms can I look for in my baby?
Symptoms of HSV-1 in babies might be as follows:
- Itching and/or burning around the mouth or lips (Does your child pull away and begin crying during breastfeeding, or when the lips or mouth come in contact with an object, or when you touch them?)
- Floppiness (of the body)
- Redness of the gums
- Swollen, tender lymph glands
- Cold sores (on, inside or around the lips and/or mouth; may also occur on the face)
However, it is important to note that these symptoms often only begin to occur when the disease has significantly progressed in the infant, often becoming untreatable. This is the reason HSV-1 is largely referred to as the asymptomatic virus.
What can happen to my child if she or he gets the virus?
Although the cold sores in themselves are not fatal, the infection can spread to your infant’s other organs, such as the brain, liver and stomach, causing severe and often irreparable damage. It can spread even before the common cold sore symptoms appear.
It is the leading cause of fulminating visceral disease, a disease of the nervous system, and hepatitis in infants.
Hence, HSV-1 presents a high risk of being fatal to any infant under 3 months of age.
How can I protect my child from this deadly virus?
Prevention is better than the cure.
In no other context does this saying fit better than the one discussed in this article. In relation to HSV-1, prevention is ABSOLUTELY better than the cure. In fact, it is vital to ensuring your baby steers clear of an infection that could risk his or her life.
As repeatedly mentioned in this article, this virus can often be asymptomatic and, therefore, invisible to the naked eye until it is too late.
Hence, here’s what you should do: WARN EVERYONE YOU MEET TO NOT KISS YOUR BABY ON THE LIPS, no matter how irresistible they may find him or her!
After you do so, inform them of the risks of doing so, the reported and recorded dangers of this practice, and the importance of being aware of it for the sake of our children’s safety, health and longevity.
Oh, and always keep a hand sanitizer handy whenever you have visitors around your baby. It may annoy them a tad, having to squirt sanitizing liquid on their palms each time they visit, but if doing so protects your baby, then being labelled the “neurotic parent(s)” is a risk you have to take!