sick child
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 8, 2024 ·  6 min read

We’re warning other parents, because no one warned us

You’ve probably heard of the cold sore virus. In fact, you may have even had a cold sore yourself. While relatively harmless (though irritating!) for adults, cold sores caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) can be deadly in babies and young children. These parents almost lost their baby girl to HSV because they did not know the dangers. “No one warned us” – so now, they are warning others. (1)

“No One Warned Us”

Sophie and Ben Lebner, parents to three children, including their baby girl Lottie, were completely unaware of the threat cold sores pose to babies less than 6 months old. When Ben developed a cold sore, they didn’t think anything of it simply because they didn’t know they should. (1)

One day, Sophie noticed that her 8-week-old baby girl had watery eyes. The next morning, Lottie had a red, crusty eye. Thinking it was conjunctivitis, she called their pharmacists, who suggested treating the eye with a saline solution. The eye continued to worsen, and it had developed small red bumps and blisters around it by the next day. (1)

Sophie made an appointment with the GP for the afternoon of the following day. A few hours later, however, she noticed that Lottie’s hand also now had bumps on it, from where she’d rubbed her irritated eye. (1)

“An hour later Lottie was irritable and upset and nothing would console her.  She did not have a temperature and was generally otherwise well,” explained Sophie. “I phoned the Maternal Health Nurse and they advised that I take her to the Hospital Emergency Department so I packed up the boys and off we went.” (1)

“It’s Just A Rash”

The doctor in the emergency room told them that it was just a rash and would likely clear within 10 days. He also warned them that it would probably get better before it got worse. At the time, she had no temperature and was not lethargic. (1)

“At the time I questioned that doctor and said I was still concerned about her eye. what if it was an infection and what if it went into her eye? And could it cause permanent damage if it did get worse?” (1)

The doctor called the hospital pediatrician who requested photos of Lottie’s eye. Less than 30 minutes later, the pediatrician arrived asking Sophie whether Lottie had been in contact with anyone with a cold sore. (1)

When he learned that Lottie’s dad had one the week before, he explained to Sophie about HSV and how dangerous it is for infants. (1)

No One Warned Us: The Dangers Of Herpes For Infants

The pediatrician explained how babies less than 6 months old do not have fully developed immune systems. Because of this, HSV can spread to the brain and other organs within days. If left untreated, HSV can cause permanent damage and even death. (1)

Lottie was quickly put on IV antibiotics and transferred to the children’s ward. (1)

“Lottie became lethargic and miserable but still pushed through with a smile,” said Sophie.  “A lumbar puncture was performed along with multiple blood tests. It takes days for these tests to come back, so the only option was to treat the virus until they knew if it was actually even present. We just had to wait and hope for the best.” (1)

Disaster Averted

The test came back confirming that Lottie had HSV. (1)

“The pediatrician told us that if we hadn’t taken her to the emergency department and had waited for the GP appointment the next day, or if we hadn’t questioned the doctor further and gone home – there was a high chance that we may have lost Lottie and that she is a real success story.” (1)

Lottie required 14 days of IV antibiotics followed by 6 months of oral antibiotics, weekly pediatric appointments, and many blood tests. Ben and Sophie then learned that the majority of their friends and family also were completely unaware of the risks cold sores pose to babies. The whole situation was incredibly hard for Ben, who blamed himself for Lottie’s illness. (1)

“As many times as I or anyone else can tell Ben that it is not his fault, he will always carry this on his shoulders and it’s really not fair. Ben wishes for everyone to be aware of the risks.” (1)

Children And The Herpes Simplex Virus

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is the virus that causes cold sores. (2) There are two types (2):

  • HSV-1: This type is the most common that causes cold sores in children
  • HSV-2: Genital herpes

Both strains can cause sores anywhere in the body. However, cold sores are most often seen around the mouth. Most people are exposed to HSV between 1 and 5 years of age, and more than half of the population of the United States are infected by the time they are adults. (2)

They are highly contagious, spreading via (2):

  • Saliva
  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Touching an object handled by someone with HSV

The first time a child gets a cold sore, it will usually spread to the inside of the mouth. (2) They may also experience (2):

  • Fever
  • Tender lymph glands
  • Sore throat
  • Irritability
  • Drooling

The symptoms can be quite mild, so you may not even notice them. (2)

The Dangers

Not all HSV infections in children are dangerous, especially if they are older than 6 months. There are problems that can arise and they should be monitored for. (2)

HSV Keratitis

This is when the infection spreads to the cornea of the eye. It usually heals without doing any damage. However, if the infection becomes severe, it can cause vision problems and blindness. (2)

When The Baby Is Less Than 6 Months Old

As already mentioned, babies less than 6 months old do not have fully-developed immune systems. No one warned them, but as Sophie and Ben now know, this can be highly dangerous and potentially fatal for an infant. (2)

Anyone with a cold sore should be cautious not to kiss young babies and wash their hands before holding them. It is best practice not to allow anyone outside of immediate family or caregivers to kiss your baby until they are 6 months old. (2)

More Information On Cold Sores

Once anyone has had a cold sore, the HSV virus stays dormant in bundles of cells in the body. If activated, they will travel back up to the skin’s surface and reappear, likely in the same place as before. The occurrence is highly variable: Some children will have multiple outbreaks a year, others will never have another again. (2)

Triggers for cold sores are (2):

  • Fatigue and stress
  • Exposure to intense sunlight, heat, cold, or dryness
  • Injuries or breaks on the skin
  • Illness (cold and flu)
  • Dehydration
  • Poor diet
  • Hormone fluctuations (for example, during menstruation)

There are currently no cures for the HSV virus. When your child is experiencing an outbreak, prevent them from picking or scratching at it, and don’t let them share towels, utensils, toothpaste, or any other items that could spread the virus to others. Talk to your pediatrician as to whether or not they should be going to school or extracurricular activities when they have an outbreak. (2)

Be sure to share this article with friends and family so that everyone will be aware of the dangers of cold sores for babies. Now, at least you avoid saying, “no one warned us” and be prepared.

Keep Reading: Nutritionist Says Pizza Is A Healthier Breakfast Than Cereal


  1. ‘We’re warning other parents, because no one warned us’.” Kidspot
  2. Cold Sores in Children: About the Herpes Simplex Virus.” Healthy Children