Should a doctor have prevented your baby’s herpes infection?
Birth-acquired herpes, also called congenital herpes, is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) that affects newborn babies. Congenital HSV is transmitted to a baby from an infected mother and can appear at any time within the first 28 days of a baby’s life.
Babies usually get HSV during delivery. Less often, they can get it in the womb or shortly after birth. Most commonly, babies acquire the virus from a mother infected with genital herpes.
What are the causes of birth-acquired herpes in infants?
Birth-acquired herpes happens when a baby contracts HSV from their mother. The babies at highest risk for contracting birth-acquired herpes are those delivered vaginally who come into contact with blisters from a mother with an active infection.
Most babies who contract the herpes virus during birth, however, are born to mothers with no known history of herpes and no active infection. This is because doctors are supposed to take precautions to prevent mothers with a known history of herpes infection from passing it on to their babies.
Babies can also be infected by their mother’s HSV while in the womb. This is particularly true if the mother was first infected during pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of herpes?
Herpes can cause a number of symptoms that vary in severity. For mothers, they include:
- Vaginal itching and burning
- Blisters in the pelvic area
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever
- Swollen glands
- Pain during urination
Symptoms of herpes in babies
Birth-acquired herpes symptoms can show up at birth or within the first few weeks after birth. The symptoms are easy to spot when it appears as a skin infection.
Babies can have clusters of blisters on their torsos and around their eyes. The blisters may burst and form a crust before healing. Other symptoms of birth-acquired herpes include:
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty feeding
How can birth-acquired herpes affect my baby?
If a baby’s entire body becomes infected with herpes (instead of just their skin), this is known as a systemic or disseminated herpes infection. Systematic congenital herpes can lead to serious complications for a newborn. They include:
- Inflamed eyes
- Respiratory distress
HSV can also cause long-term complications for the baby’s organs, including:
- Lungs (breathing difficulty)
- Liver (jaundice)
- Central nervous system (seizures)
- Brain (encephalitis/brain inflammation)
Death is uncommon for cases of localized herpes infection on the skin, mainly because it can be readily identified and treated early.
Systemic herpes is often harder to diagnose. Unfortunately, if left untreated, systemic HSV is fatal in 85 percent of cases. Among those who survive, around 65 percent will have severe neurologic issues.
Prompt treatment is needed to have a meaningful impact. Treatment delays of even a single day can lead to a twofold increase in the chance of death. Unfortunately, the systemic form of the virus has a subtle presentation and is, therefore, often difficult to identify in a timely manner.
How many babies are affected by birth-acquired herpes annually?
Birth-acquired herpes is relatively rare because it typically only occurs in mothers who have an unknown infection.
According to the Boston Children’s Hospital, birth-acquired herpes affects about 1 in every 3,500 babies born in the U.S., but a recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics found that cases are on the rise.
What treatments are available for birth-acquired herpes?
Prompt treatment of neonatal HSV is imperative because any delay can compound the complications. Common treatments include:
- Antiviral medications
- Supportive therapy to manage symptoms
Acyclovir is an antiviral drug effective at treating HSV. However, to be effective, it must be administered as soon as your baby begins showing any signs or symptoms.
If your baby is diagnosed with birth-acquired herpes, their pediatrician will likely order acyclovir to be given intravenously (through an IV). This medication is typically required for several weeks, and other medications to control seizures and prevent shock may also be ordered if needed.
When to contact a birth injury attorney
Babies born with birth-acquired herpes can face serious health consequences that have life-long implications. It’s a doctor’s responsibility to identify, diagnose and treat any baby suspected of having the herpes simplex virus as quickly as possible to prevent serious consequences and death.
If your baby contracted herpes during childbirth, you may be entitled to compensation to help support their current and future medical expenses. An experienced birth injury lawyer can investigate your case, determine if a doctor was negligent, and fight to ensure your baby gets the help they need.
If you believe a doctor’s negligence may have negatively impacted the health of your baby and you’re considering filing a birth injury lawsuit, contact Brown Trial Firm for assistance with your case. Laura Brown has years of experience in birth injury law, helping families like yours all across the U.S. get the compensation they deserve. Contact her today for your free, no-obligation consultation.
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