Neonatal Herpes Simplex | Diagnosis & Treatments

How we diagnose neonatal herpes simplex

The first step in treating your child is forming an accurate and complete diagnosis.

Diagnosis is sometimes difficult because babies with neonatal herpes simplex may not have the characteristic blisters of the disease. In addition, many symptoms of herpes resemble other diseases or disorders. However, the following tests can diagnose neonatal herpes:

  • skin culture: taking a sample of the blister by scraping or removing a piece of tissue
  • blood test
  • swab culture: taking a sample with a cotton swab from the nose, throat, or rectum
  • urine test
  • CT or MRI scan of the head

If you or your doctor suspects that your baby may have neonatal herpes simplex, we typically test both the mother and the baby for the presence of the virus.

  • If you are pregnant and know that you have herpes simplex or know that you’ve recently been exposed to the virus, ask your doctor to perform a test.

After we complete all necessary tests, our experts meet to review and discuss what they have learned. Then we will meet with you and your family to discuss the results and outline the best treatment options.

How we treat neonatal herpes simplex

If your child has been diagnosed with neonatal herpes simplex, you may be confused, frightened, and overwhelmed. But you can rest assured that, at Boston Children's Hospital, your child is in good hands.

Our physicians are expert, compassionate, and committed to focusing on the whole child, not just his condition — that's one reason we're frequently ranked as a top pediatric hospital in the United States.

It's important to know the following about herpes simplex in infants:

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

At Boston Children's, we consider you and your child integral parts of the care team and not simply recipients of care. You and your care team will work together to customize a plan of care for your child.

Coping and support

It's essential to remember that while hearing that your child is infected with neonatal herpes simplex can feel very isolating, many children and their families have been down this path before. We've helped them, and we can help you, too.

There are lots of resources available for your family — within Boston Children's, in the outside community and online. These include:

  • Patient education: From the very first visit, our nurses will be on hand to walk you through your child's treatment and help answer any questions you may have. And they'll also reach out to you by phone, continuing the care and support you received while at Boston Children's.
  • Parent to parent: Want to talk with someone whose baby has been treated for neonatal herpes simplex? We can put you in touch with other families who have been through similar experiences and can share their experience.
  • Faith-based support: If you are in need of spiritual support, we'll help connect you with the Boston Children's Department of Spiritual Care (chaplaincy). Our program includes nearly a dozen clergy representing Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and United Church of Christ traditions who will listen to you, pray with you, and help you observe your own faith practices during the time you and your child are in the hospital.
  • Social work and mental health professionals: Our social workers and mental health clinicians have helped many other families in your situation. We can offer counseling and assistance with issues such as coping with your child's diagnosis, stresses relating to coping with illness, and dealing with financial difficulties.

On our patient resources pages, you can read all you need to know about: