Congenital Herpes Simplex Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What is congenital herpes simplex?

Congenital herpes simplex is an infection caused by exposure in the uterus. In most cases, babies contract congenital herpes in the birth canal during delivery, although in rare circumstances, it's possible to be infected in the uterus or immediately after birth.

What are the symptoms of congenital herpes simplex?

Symptoms of congenital herpes usually appear within the first month of the infant's life. Signs that your baby may have herpes are:

  • irritability
  • seizures
  • trouble breathing, including grunting, blue appearance (cyanosis), rapid breathing and short periods of no breathing
  • jaundice (yellow skin color)
  • bleeding easily
  • shock

Herpes simplex infections can be divided into three categories, determined by these symptoms:

  • Localized skin infection–small, fluid-filled blisters on the skin and around the eyes and mouth that burst, crust over and heal
  • Encephalitis–an inflammation of the brain, which can cause problems with brain and spinal cord function, including seizures
  • Disseminated herpes infection–the most dangerous type of herpes infection. The herpes virus is spread throughout the body and can affect multiple organs, including the liver, brain, lungs and kidney.

If your baby is afflicted with herpes, she may not exhibit all the symptoms of the disease. Most symptoms surface by the end of the baby's first week, while more severe central nervous system problems will not appear until the baby's second week.

If left untreated, encephalitis and disseminated herpes infections are potentially fatal.

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