A warning to new mothers: cold sores can kill.


A newborn baby girl’s death may have resulted from a cold sore and her mother is determined to warn others of the dangers and save lives.

A few days after baby Eloise Lampton was born in early November she was taken back to a Mackay hospital.

She was then airlifted to a Brisbane hospital where she was diagnosed with a herpes simplex virus.

Eloise died on November 25.

Eloise’s parents want to raise awareness about the dangers of cold sores (Image via ABC)

Mother Sarah Pugh says doctors told her the cold sore virus could have caused her death.

“I don’t suffer from cold sores and was never really aware of them, but doctors told me that they think my daughter caught the virus one or two days after birth,” she said.

Sarah says doctors told her that her daughter needed to be put on life support in intensive care.

“They told us the risk – that she was either going to die in a few hours or put her on this machine and try and make her better,” she said.

“You would do anything for your kids.

“But then she ended up getting a staph infection which put a cyst on her brain, so we were made to turn the machine off.”

Newborn babies are unable to be vaccinated until they are six months old. 


Sarah says she hopes to raise awareness around the issue and wants people to take extra caution with their babies, especially in the first six months of their lives before getting vaccinated.

“Make sure you are washing your hands and taking care with your personal hygiene, it is a must around little kids,” she said.

“It’s good to bring awareness around this, because honestly this is my fourth child, I just planned to be in hospital for six hours and come home and you know when you have four children you are sort of blase because the other three were so healthy, it is pretty unexpected.”

Rare condition says doctors

Mackay Base Hospital child and adolescent health director Michael Williams says it is an extremely rare condition for babies to die from a herpes virus and that Eloise Lampton’s case is a very difficult case to understand.

“We will be reviewing her case to try and better understand it in the next week,” he said.

“Most babies who develop the herpes infection in the newborn period acquire it through the birthing process, it is only a small percentage – one in 10 acquire it after birth,” he said.

Eloise was placed on life support after contracting the virus.

Despite this, Dr Williams says it is possible for a baby to pick up herpes from being in contact with someone with a cold sore.

Dr Williams says he recalls a study from many years ago relating to nurses and how common it is to have the virus.


“They were concerned whether or not babies could pick up the virus from a nurse, and that is the reason why nurses with cold sores have never been allowed to look after babies,” he said.

Neonatal herpes study

An ongoing Australian-wide study is being carried out through the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit in Sydney looking into uncommon conditions such as neonatal herpes.

Professor Cheryl Jones is the paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist at the children’s hospital at Westmead and has been involved in the ongoing study for the past 20 years.

She says the herpes virus is an uncommon infection in newborns, and there are roughly four cases in Australia per every 100,000 live births.

“The herpes virus is often known as causing cold sores but also can cause genital herpes, eye infections and brain disease,” she said.

“But occasionally, and we probably have about 10 cases a year in Australia, the infection gets passed onto newborn babies.”

“Most commonly during delivery, although sometimes it happens after delivery from the hands of a care giver and very rarely it happens when the baby is in the womb.”

Dr Jones says babies can contract the herpes virus after birth if they are kissed from someone who has an active cold sore or are handled by someone who has herpes on their fingers.

But she says the virus can’t get in unless there is a break in the skin, because that is the root of transmission.


“We have been studying this for the last almost 20 years, because it is really important to capture this information to help try and find ways to prevent the infection, and also to keep educating clinicians that this is out there and how they should try and recognise it and responds to it,” she said.

Babies can contract herpes if they are in contact with someone with a cold sore. (Image via Thinkstock)

Key findings

She says they have recently published their findings from an ongoing study called ‘Neonatal and Infant Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Infection’.

“Because we have this education going out, the overall death rate from this condition is going down,” she said.

“But it is still uncommon and it still can present without any clear signs of the infection, so babies such as the one in Mackay can still present and have this highly lethal infection.”

She says if you have an active lesion on your lip or finger, you need to be careful about kissing a baby.

“It is not going to spread through the air; you have to actually touch the baby’s skin,” she said.

Dr Jones says there is now good antiviral therapy and she is very hopeful with the ongoing surveillance of this condition that they will find ways to further reduce the frequency of this infection and its potentially deadly outcomes.

This post originally appeared on the ABC and has been republished here with full permission.