The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) causes oral, genital and congenital herpes infections in children and adults. A child can contract herpes from his parents, from other children, or from his infected mother during pregnancy or vaginal birth. There is no cure for herpes, but the frequency and duration of its symptoms can be managed. It is important to recognize the signs that your child has been infected with herpes so that you can get him appropriate treatment and help to prevent the spread of the virus to others.
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Sores in the Mouth
Children commonly get a condition known as gingivostomatitis which is caused by HSV-1. The main symptom of gingivostomatitis is ulcers in the mouth, and these are often accompanied by fever, pain, irritability and decreased appetite. Some children may refuse to drink fluids because of the painful sores, so dehydration can sometimes be a secondary symptom.
Sores on the Skin
Another common sign of herpes are cold sores or fever blisters on the mouth (oral herpes). Sores may also occasionally appear on the face, chin, fingers or nostrils. Oral herpes is easily transmitted from adult to child or child to child by sharing utensils, drinks or towels. The cold sores appear as fluid-filled blisters that are red, painful and tender to the touch. Over the course of a week or two, the blisters break open, ooze, and then dry up and heal.
Herpes gladiatorum is another type of herpes infection that appears on the skin, most commonly around the jaw area. It usually occurs in adolescents who wrestle and who are susceptible to transmission of the herpes virus from tight holds and infected mats.
Sores on the Genitals
Genital herpes can be caused by either the HSV-1 or HSV-2 virus, and is identified by herpes blisters in the genital or anal area. It is transmitted sexually through genital to genital or oral to genital contact. There may be one blister or a cluster of sores that are filled with a clear or reddish fluid. These blisters soon open up and seep liquid or blood, and eventually crust over and heal. Initial herpes outbreaks are often accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, headaches or even aseptic meningitis.
Signs of Congenital Herpes Simplex
Congenital herpes simplex is transmitted from mother to baby in utero or during vaginal delivery. Symptoms usually appear in the first month after the baby is born. Newborns may show signs of irritability, jaundice (yellowing of the skin), trouble breathing, grunting, breathing irregularities, blue appearance, seizures, bleeding and shock. Once infected, some babies may develop localized skin infections in the form of blisters on the face or eyes, while others may develop more serious issues such as encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain that can lead to seizures and damage to the brain and spinal cord. A disseminated herpes infection is one that spreads throughout the body and infects the baby’s vital organs. If left untreated, both encephalitis and disseminated herpes infections can be fatal, so it is critical to seek treatment right away if your baby is showing any of these signs.