Causes of herpes simplex mouth infection

The first time a child gets a herpes simplex mouth infection, it can appear as painful ulcers inside the child’s mouth. This is called gingivostomatitis.

After this first infection, the virus ‘sleeps’ in the body, in the nerves that supply the skin. It can cause cold sores later in childhood and adulthood.

Most adults will have had at least one primary herpes simplex viral infection during their lives, usually when they were children.

Symptoms of herpes simplex mouth infection

Your child might say he has a sore mouth. His 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 lots 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, and might also have a fever and swollen neck glands.

The major complication of herpes simplex mouth infections is poor fluid intake. This is because your child’s sore mouth makes swallowing painful and difficult.

These infections usually clear up in 7-10 days.

When to see your doctor about symptoms of herpes simplex mouth infection

If you have any concerns, you should take your child to your GP. You should also see your GP if your child:

  • is generally unwell or has a fever
  • refuses food and liquids, and wees less often than usual.

Treatment for herpes simplex mouth infection

There’s no cure for herpes simplex infections. The best you can do is treat the symptoms to make your child more comfortable.

You can give your child paracetamol in recommended doses to help ease your child’s pain.

You can also use topical pain preparations directly in your child’s mouth to relieve pain. These preparations include lignocaine gel 2% or lignocaine and chlorhexidine mouth wash (for older children who won’t swallow).

Even if your child is refusing food, you could try very soft foods. You should encourage your child to drink fluids, even tiny amounts at a time. You could also consider giving oral rehydration solution, which you can buy at any pharmacy. You can also get it as icy poles.

If your child is used to a bottle, it might be easier to feed her with a cup and spoon until the infection goes away.

If the infection is severe or your child’s immune system isn’t working properly for some reason, your doctor might consider treating your child with anti-viral medication like aciclovir.

Prevention of herpes simplex mouth infection

The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious, so make sure your child doesn’t kiss other people or share drinks or food.