About herpes simplex mouth infection
When a child is infected with herpes simplex virus for the first time, it can cause herpes simplex mouth infection. This infection often leads to painful gums and ulcers inside a child’s mouth. This is called gingivostomatitis.
After a first infection with herpes simplex virus, the virus sleeps in the skin for life. It can wake up and cause cold sores.
Herpes simplex virus is highly contagious. You can get it through skin-to-skin contact, contact with an infected person’s saliva, or contact with infected objects. It can spread even when infected people don’t have any symptoms.
Symptoms of herpes simplex mouth infection
Your child might say they have a sore mouth. Their lips, gums and throat might also be sore.
The lining of your child’s mouth might be swollen and red, and you might be able to see a lot of tiny blisters or ulcers.
Younger children might refuse food or drink and drool a lot. Your child might be irritable and cry a lot. They might also have a fever and swollen lymph glands.
Symptoms usually start clearing up within 3-4 days and disappear completely in 7-10 days without leaving any scarring.
Complications of herpes simplex mouth infection
The major complication of a herpes simplex virus mouth infection is poor fluid intake and dehydration. This is because swallowing is painful and difficult.
In very rare cases, herpes simplex virus can cause encephalitis.
Children with a weakened immune system because of illness or medication have an increased risk of getting herpes simplex mouth infection and encephalitis. Babies younger than 3 months old are also at increased risk.
Medical help: when to get it for children with herpes simplex mouth infection
You should take your child to your GP if your child:
- doesn’t get better after a few days.
- refuses food and liquids
- is generally unwell.
You should take your child to your nearest hospital emergency department straight away if your child is showing signs of:
- dehydration – isn’t passing urine, looks pale and thin, has sunken eyes, cold hands and cold feet, is drowsy or is very cranky
- encephalitis – is confused, drowsy, has a seizure or is behaving in a concerning way.
You know your child best. If your child seems unwell, trust your instincts and seek medical attention.
Treatment for herpes simplex mouth infection
You can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to help ease your child’s pain.
You can also ask your GP or pharmacist about numbing gels or mouth washes that can help relieve pain.
You should encourage your child to drink fluids, even tiny amounts at a time. One option is oral rehydration solution like Gastrolyte or Hydralyte, which you can get as liquid, powder or icy poles from your pharmacy.
If your child is used to a bottle, it might be easier to feed them using a cup and spoon until the infection improves. If your child is refusing food, try offering them very soft foods.
If the infection is severe or your child is at risk of a severe infection, your doctor might suggest an anti-viral medicine.
Don’t give aspirin to children under 12 years unless it’s prescribed by a doctor. Aspirin can make your child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially deadly illness. If you’re giving your child any over-the-counter medicines, check with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure these have no aspirin.
Prevention of herpes simplex mouth infection
If someone in your family has a herpes simplex mouth infection or cold sores, other family members should avoid direct contact like close hugging or kissing. Also avoid sharing utensils, glasses or bath towels.