After noticing that their newborn daughter was so lethargic that she couldn’t eat, her parents, Nicole and Shane Sifrit, rushed her to the hospital. There, less than two weeks later, baby Mariana died. Her funeral took place on Monday.
Doctors told the Sifrits that Mariana had contracted herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1), which led to the complication of meningitis. It is believed she acquired the illness from a kiss from someone who had the cold sore virus, and may or may not have known it.
Nicole, who has been chronicling the tragic ordeal on Facebook, had this advice for other parents: Don’t let anyone kiss your newborn baby.
The warning may sound harsh — babies are highly smoochable creatures — but is echoed by medical professionals. Newborns have immature immune systems, so viruses and bacteria that cause mild illnesses in children and adults can cause severe illnesses in their tiny, vulnerable bodies.
About 80 per cent of all Australian adults are infected with HSV-1 and may carry the virus in their saliva at any time during their lifetime, even if they don’t have symptoms. While meningitis caused by bacteria or herpes is rare, a kiss on a baby’s mouth, or possibly anywhere on the skin, can be extremely dangerous.
Here are some guidelines for parents with a newborn:
- Everyone should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching the baby.
- Don’t let anyone kiss the baby until he or she is six weeks old — by that point, a baby’s immune system should be strong enough that the risk of a life-threatening infection from a virus like herpes is nearly negligible.
- Only let those who feel 100 per cent healthy visit your baby (anyone with “a little sore throat” should come back at another time).
- Watch for any signs of HSV infections in newborns, including sores on the mouth, tongue, gums, lips, or throat, along with aches, fever, trouble breathing, swollen lymph nodes, or lethargy. If you notice symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.