Newborn infants contract the herpes simplex virus in a number of ways. At birth, a mother who is infected with the virus can pass it on to her infant, especially if she is experiencing an outbreak at the time of delivery. The National Institutes of Health explains that this is the most common form of transmission. Shortly after birth an infant can contract the virus from infected individuals just like any other person, via bodily fluids. The least likely way an infant contracts the virus is during his stay in the uterus, called intrauterine herpes. The symptoms of herpes in infants can develop throughout the body or only in one concentrated area of the skin.
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) can exist in an infant, or any person, without any signs or symptoms of existence. In this case, only a blood test could reveal the virus. Even without signs of the virus, the infant can transmit the infection to others through saliva or blood.
Herpes acquired at birth or after birth can lead to lesions or blisters. The sores can appear on the mouth, genitals and most other areas of skin. During an outbreak the herpes can appear as red, irritated skin. After several days a blister will form. Soon it will burst and the fluid will ooze, leading to a crusty scab. Eventually the sore will heal. The fluids oozed can be pus, blood or clear liquid.
Signs of Illness
The New York State Department of Health points out that between 2 and 12 days after exposure to HSV an infant may exhibit mild signs of illness. These include a low fever of about 100.4 degrees F or higher and/or a decreased interest in feeding. The infant can worsen and develop seizures with a very high fever and may become so lethargic that he appears floppy or flaccid. The National Institutes of Health explains that seizures resulting from inflammation of the brain may be a sign of encephalitis, an illness that can develop from birth-acquired herpes infection. Encephalitis can lead to brain and nervous system problems. When untreated, the NIH reports that an infant could die.
The NIH defines disseminated herpes as the most dangerous type as it spreads throughout the body (systemic infection). The infection of this kind can affect many internal organs like the liver, lungs, kidneys and brain, and can often be fatal.
In the rare event that an infant develops herpes while in the uterus, the symptoms can include eye disease, severe brain damage and skin lesions, reports the NIH. The eye disease can include inflammation of the retina.
Birth-acquired HSV can lead to several other symptoms, including trouble breathing, bleeding easily, coma, enlarged liver or spleen, jaundice, kidney failure, reduced body temperature or shock. Signs of this in a newborn include yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes, blueish skin from lack of oxygen, flaring of the nostrils, grunting and/or an increased rate of breathing, and short periods of no breaths taken. The American Social Health Association suggests other symptoms include fussiness or rash.