After her 2-week-old daughter Mariana died of viral meningitis, grieving Iowa mother Nicole Sifrit is issuing a heartbreaking warning to new parents: “Don’t let people kiss your baby and make sure they ask before they pick up your baby,” she told WHOtv.com.
According to CNN, Mariana’s meningitis was caused by herpes-simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), the same virus that causes cold sores on a person’s mouth. It’s very rare for the virus to lead to meningitis, a serious and potentially deadly inflammation of the tissue covering a person’s brain and spinal cord.
“HSV is not a common infection [in infants], but it can happen and we do see it,” says Danelle Fisher, M.D., chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. Babies are particularly vulnerable in their first few weeks of life, and don’t have any antibodies built up to protect them from a herpes infection, she says. As a result, they can get really sick if they contract it. “In a baby, it can go from exposure to a cold sore to meningitis in a relatively short period of time,” Fisher says.
Her parents, Nicole and Shane, both tested negative for the virus, so it’s likely that their baby contracted it from someone else.
Nicole and Shane married six days after Mariana was born, but within two hours of the ceremony, Mariana had stopped eating and would not wake up, the couple told WHOtv.com. They rushed Mariana to the hospital, where they learned that she had contracted meningitis HSV-1, which can be carried by someone with the virus even if they do not have an open cold sore, CNN says. (BTW: While babies can get sick quickly from HSV, Fisher says it’s unlikely that Mariana got the infection from her parents’ wedding since her symptoms developed so soon after the ceremony.)
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If an adult has a cold sore, Fisher says it’s really best to ask them not to kiss the baby anywhere, not even on their feet. She also recommends asking people not to kiss your baby on or next to their mouth, and limiting your baby’s exposure to other people in their first month of life. That means keeping them away from public places like grocery and coffee stores, or anyplace where there can be large gatherings of people. “The baby should not have a lot of exposure to other people within the first few weeks of life because they are so vulnerable,” Fisher says.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your baby to your grandma’s house or have a friend over to visit—you just need to limit the number of people your baby is exposed to and, again, put a kibosh on any mouth-kissing. That goes for you, too, since Fisher says babies can also get HSV from their parents. “I’m not saying to parents, ‘Don’t kiss your baby,'” she says. “Just be cautious.”
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