Apart from being cosmetically unappealing, cold sores are highly contagious.  But what are you to do when you have a cold sore and also a newborn baby to care for?

What is a Cold Sore?

Cold sores are usually caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1).  They look like small blisters around the lips, mouth, chin, cheeks, or even nose.  Within a couple of days, the blisters will ooze, crust over, and then heal within 14 days.  

Herpes Simplex Virus in Children

HSV infections are common.  HSV is spread from person to person mostly through saliva (most common), skin-to-skin contact, or through an object handled by someone with an active infection. 

Once the virus is contracted, it can take up to 26 days for a cold sore to appear, but most often within 6 to 8 days

The first time a child contracts HSV, they can develop an infection called primary herpetic gingivostomatitis(PHGS).  Fortunately, most children do not develop PHGS, and only acquire an asymptomatic infection. 

PHGS can cause fever, oral lesions, and difficulty eating.  Dehydration can be a concern if the child is refusing to eat or drink.  The lesions found in PHGS can be quite widespread in the mouth and throat of the child.  

It is important to have your child evaluated by a physician if you think they may have an HSV infection.  They may require prescription antiviral medication.  

HSV infections can be dangerous for newborn babies.  If your newborn develops a fever or blisters, they should see a physician immediately.  

Why Do Cold Sores Come Back?

Herpes simplex virus remains in the body for the rest of your life.  The virus settles into the nerve cells of the body.  During times of stress or illness, a cold sore may pop up.  

There Is No Cure For Cold Sores

The good news is that they often go away very quickly on their own within 14 days.

If You Have A Newborn Baby And Someone Has a Cold Sore:

  • Ask that person to wash their hands often
  • They should not kiss, cough, or sneeze near the baby to avoid their saliva getting on the baby
  • You may even ask them to wear a mask to cover their cold sores 
  • You may even avoid being near that person while they have a cold sore

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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