Q&A: Can I pass my cold sores on to my baby?
I've had cold sores most of my life, and I'm afraid I may have given one to my infant. Is there any safe way for me to clear hers up? I use an over-the-counter cream with docosanol (Abreva) to treat mine.
If you think your baby does have a cold sore, take her to her doctor. Her doctor may recommend a topical ointment just for her to help clear it up. Most outbreaks will resolve themselves within about 10 days. If your baby is a newborn, being infected with HSV can be serious. It is always a good idea to check with your baby’s pediatrician when something like this comes up. It is also a good idea not to use any medication for adults on infants without the advice of a doctor.
Caregivers should always practice good hand washing; avoid sharing towels, utensils, and cups; and refrain from kissing the baby if they have symptoms of an impending outbreak or have a cold sore.
What Causes Cold Sores?
A cold sore is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes viruses and they can affect the mouth or the genital area. The Type I virus is generally the one that causes cold sores around the mouth and lips. The Type II virus is usually associated with genital herpes. The herpes simplex virus is similar to the one that can lead to shingles or chicken pox. Once a person has been exposed to this virus it can remain in the body even if symptoms no longer are present. (It tends to be sneaky and can linger in nerve cells.)
Different conditions can cause the herpes virus to flare up, including stress, heat, fever, or direct contact. In the case of genital herpes, it is basically transmitted through sexual contact or exposure to the saliva of an infected person.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 45 million Americans are affected with genital or Type II herpes. The CDC also reports that one in four pregnant women is affected. This is a risk factor when delivering vaginally. An active outbreak at the time of delivery will necessitate a C-section to protect your baby. This part of a woman’s prenatal history is very important, as her doctor can help monitor her carefully for symptoms of an outbreak.
If a woman has a history of repeated outbreaks, some doctors may recommend taking acyclovir (an oral medication) in the last month before her due date to help prevent an outbreak.
If you have a history of cold sores, it is important to be aware of outbreaks. Most people report a tingling or burning sensation in the area of the impending outbreak a day or two before a cold sore appears. The HSV can be transmitted by simply kissing your baby.