Can A Baby Die From A Kiss? Yes, But It’s ‘Exceptionally Rare’

The story had been on Dr. Emily Scott’s mind for days -- that story about the baby girl in Iowa who died after contracting viral meningitis caused by herpes.

The baby, Mariana Sifrit, came home from the hospital a healthy newborn. But, she rapidly declined after her mother says someone with HSV-1, the virus better known as herpes, kissed her.

“Deadly Kiss Kills Newborn” media reports said, after the baby’s death July 18 at less than a week old.

Dr. Scott, newborn medical director at IU Health Methodist Hospital, worried the story would cause parents to panic. That it would scare them into shielding their babies from all visitors.

“The important thing to point out to parents is this case is exceptionally rare,” Dr. Scott says. “It is really unusual for a baby to catch HSV-1 from a kiss. With that being said, you can catch it that way. But I don’t think people should be worried about letting grandma or grandpa kiss baby.”

HSV-1 is the herpes virus that causes cold sores. In most cases, it isn’t serious and clears up on its own. But in babies younger than a month old, with an already weakened immune system, it can be much more serious. It can lead to viral meningitis, which causes the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed.

“Neonatal herpes infection is a very serious disease,” Dr. Scott says. “When we see babies who have this infection, it can hit them hard. They get very sick. There is a significant death rate.”

HSV-1 in babies, Dr. Scott says, most often occurs when mom has an active herpes infection in or around the birth canal.  

And while Dr. Scott points out the rarity of what happened to the Iowa newborn, she does caution parents. If they know a family member or friend has a cold sore, they should not allow them to kiss the baby.

“We do want parents to be pretty conservative about who is around the baby,” she says. “Parents should be cognizant in general. Those with a cough, cold or virus or any kind of infection, those people shouldn’t be around the baby.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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