Cold Sore Virus Leads to Baby's Death

Parents lose their baby to HSV-1 virus 10 days after her birth.

ByABC News
October 30, 2008, 5:41 PM

Oct. 31, 2008 — -- For about a week, Charlotte Raveney and Mohamed Eisawy's daughter Mira was a happy, bubbly baby. Her delivery was exhausting, though, and Raveney developed a slight fever and a cold sore on her bottom lip three days later -- the first one she had ever had.

But the sore was gone the next day, and Raveney did not think about it again. She did not connect her cold sore to her daughter's death a week later.

Mira died after contracting herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the same virus that can cause cold sores. Initially, Mira was fussy, would not breast feed for more than a few minutes, and had a pink and sticky left eye.

One night, Mira developed a rash on her stomach and went rigid on a table while her father was changing her. Her parents rushed her to the hospital, but by then the damage was done.

"She looked like a frozen chicken, lying there," Raveney, 32, said, recalling her daughter's puffed out stomach and rigid limbs.

Most babies who contract herpes do so from their infected mothers via the birth canal.

Far less common is for a neonate -- a baby in the first month of life -- to become infected through contact with another infected person, according to Dr. Jon Abramson, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who has only seen two such cases during his career.

"Herpes virus in a neonate is a dangerous infection," Abramson said. "And most parents aren't aware."

But Raveney was not infected with HSV-1 during her pregnancy because Mira's blood tests showed no antibodies against the virus, antibodies that would have been passed through the placenta.

Raveney believed she contracted HSV-1 in the days following Mira's birth, likely from her husband, who had become infected years earlier, but had not had any outbreaks since the two had been together.

In Raveneys' case, her healthy pregnancy was a detriment to Mira's fragile immune system. But catching a cold or even the presence of antibodies against another herpes virus, such as chicken pox, which Raveney once had, would not have offered protection because the viruses are too dissimilar to herpes simplex.