Most of us don’t bat an eyelid when our kids have watery and crusty eyes. We’ve all had our bouts of conjunctivitis over the years, so yucky eyes are often chalked up to just that. For Sophie Lebner’s daughter Lottie however, the reason behind her gunky eyes was something much more sinister.
8-week-old Lottie had spent a couple of days with common symptoms of conjunctivitis: red, watery, crusty eyes. Sophie treated her daughter’s affected eye with saline solution, upon advice from her local chemist.
When Lottie developed small red blisters around her eye, alarm bells began to go off. Sophie explains,
“I was sure this wasn’t what conjunctivitis looked like”
That same day, Lottie developed two pimple-like spots on her left hand, where she had rubbed her eye. She became irritable at this point, however, she did not have a temperature.
After speaking with a nurse from the Maternal and Child Health Line, Sophie and Lottie headed to the Emergency Department at her local hospital. She explains,
“We saw a doctor who advised us that Lottie was ok and the rash would disappear after 10 days and to expect it to get worse before it got better, but she was fine, she did not have a temperature, she was not lethargic, she was fine and we would be fine to go home.”
Mother knows best
Sophie persisted, though. She questioned the doctor about Sophie’s eye and asked if it could spread to her other eye or cause permanent damage. The doctor contacted a paediatrician, who requested photos of Lottie’s eye. Within half an hour, the paediatrician had rushed to the hospital to see her.
The paediatrician asked Sophie if Lottie had been in contact with anyone with a cold sore that week.
She had. Sophie’s father had had a cold sore just a few days earlier. Lottie’s dad, Ben, avoided kissing Lottie, while he had his cold sore. Sophie and Ben assumed the risks associated with a baby catching a cold sore mirrored the risks adults faced.
He then explained to Sophie that herpes simplex virus can be life-threatening to newborns if left untreated, as it can spread to the brain and organs within days of exposure.
Lottie’s dad, Ben, avoided kissing Lottie, while he had his cold sore. Sophie and Ben assumed the risks associated with a baby catching a cold sore mirrored the risks adults faced.
Lottie underwent a series of treatments. She was immediately connected to an IV drip to receive antivirals. She was then transferred to Albury Children’s Ward, where she became lethargic and unhappy. Sophie had a lumber puncture and multiple blood tests.
“Still with a smile, she pushed through” – Sophie Lebner.
Lottie contracted herpes simplex virus
Test results confirmed that Lottie had HSV, however, it was caught and treated before it travelled any further. Sophie explains that timing was crucial. Had she waited even a few more hours to have Lottie diagnosed, or had she not questioned the ER doctor further— their story could have ended very differently.
While Lottie is recovering, she is on a 14-day IV course of antivirals, followed by 6-months of antibiotics and weekly paediatric appointments and blood tests.
Sophie shares her family’s horrific experience to warn other parents of the dangers of kissing newborn babies. Having been unaware of the life-threatening nature of the virus, she hopes to spare other parents the nightmare her family has endured and, thankfully, overcome.
Cold sores in babies
Babies under 6-months-old are at risk of severe symptoms of HSV, as their immune systems are not fully developed. It is passed on by being in close contact with somebody that has the virus.
Symptoms of HSV in newborns include:
- ulcers in the mouth, blistering
- trouble feeding
- lethargy, and
It is crucial that if a baby shows any signs of HSV they are taken to a doctor. Doctors also need to be alerted if a child has been in contact with someone with a cold sore and has become unwell.
Basic hygiene is the best way to avoid spreading cold sores. Anybody with a cold sore should avoid physical contact with babies. This includes kissing, sharing food and sharing utensils.
The virus can be spread by touching the skin – think about how many times you touch your mouth and then touch a toy or a dummy. A person does not necessarily need to have an ‘active’ cold sore to pass on the virus – they can be contagious days before even knowing they have a cold sore.
Your child. Your rules.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if somebody is carrying the virus – or if they are harbouring a soon-to-sprout cold sore. For this reason, it is really important to establish guidelines early on and stick to them. Whether you’re going to have a blanket-ban on anybody kissing your baby, or if you plan to keep a watchful eye on all visitors, checking their lips for signs of the virus, the key is to be vocal about your wishes.
While we all get caught up in the excitement of passing our gorgeous newborns around the room, it is important to remember that it is likely that some visitors aren’t aware of the danger of a simple kiss.
Lottie is not the first child to suffer from cold sores. 2-year-old Sienna is further warning that kissing children holds potentially fatal risks.