Neonatal herpes simplex


"Neonatal herpes simplex is a serious infection that can cause long-term damage to your baby's health if it's not treated. If you've been infected with the virus, tell your doctor as soon as possible."

Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Children?s Hospital Boston Division of Infectious Diseases

You’re likely to be confused and overwhelmed—not to mention scared—if your infant has been diagnosed with neonatal herpes simplex. But you can play an active role in helping him get better. Developing a basic understanding of the condition is a great first step as you partner with your child’s health care team to form a treatment plan.

  • Herpes simplex is a virus that can be passed from mother to baby.
  • Most babies born to mothers infected with the herpes simplex virus are completely healthy.
    • However, a baby is at greater risk for contracting herpes if the mother's first herpes infection occurs in the third trimester of pregnancy
  • In nearly 90% of the cases of neonatal herpes simplex, the baby contracts the virus in the birth canal, but it is also possible to become infected in utero or just after birth.
  • The virus is inactive at times, but it is incurable and is a lifetime infection.
  • About 1 out of every 3,500 babies born in the United States contracts neonatal herpes simplex.
  • The symptoms nearly always appear during the baby’s first month of life.

Neonatal herpes simplex is a serious infection that, if not treated, can cause long-term damage to your baby’s health. If you know that you’ve been infected with the virus, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

If we find that your baby has been infected with the herpes simplex virus, we will begin treatment to ensure that the condition has a minimal effect on her health.

How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches neonatal herpes simplex

Here at Children’s, physicians in our Fetal-Neonatal Neurology Program treat herpes simplex in infants.

Babies who have a congenital neurological condition need intense, specialized care. We provide comprehensive evaluation and treatment for these young children. Because newborns’ brains are in a crucial window of rapid development, we identify problems as early as possible and intervene quickly.

How does Children’s treat neonatal herpes simplex?

  • We treat babies with neonatal herpes simplex with a course of intravenous antiviral medication over a period of several weeks.
    • The most commonly used treatments for neonatal herpes simplex are called ganciclovir and valganciclovir.

Newborn medicine

At Children's Division of Newborn Medicine, we specialize in treating babies with a wide range of congenital and acquired conditions. Your baby will be seen by a specially trained team of physicians, nurses, therapists and other health professionals who routinely diagnose and treat newborns with critical illnesses.

Herpes without symptoms?
On WBUR’s Common Health blog, Dr. Lydia Shrier, an adolescent medicine specialist with Children’s, talks about how many people without symptoms can still have herpes — and infect others, including their babies
Essential support services
Read about general information and resources for Children’s patients and their families.

Neonatal herpes simplex: Neonatal herpes simplex: Reviewed by Sandra Burchett, MD, MSc, Clinical Director, Children’s Hospital Boston Division of Infectious Diseases