What You Should Know About Neonatal Herpes Encephalitis

The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) infection is a common occurrence in adults, and that includes pregnant women. If genital herpes is contracted during pregnancy, the baby is also at risk of getting infected and experiencing a birth injury. If the transmission of the virus from mother to baby occurs and is left untreated, it could lead to neonatal herpes encephalitis.  

Incidence and Causes of Neonatal Herpes Encephalitis

Encephalitis enters the CSF and BrainHerpes simplex virus infection in infants is estimated to happen in about 1 in every 3000 deliveries in the United States. In 2006, there is a smaller incidence of 9.6 cases in every 100,000 births recorded. Its complication, neonate herpes encephalitis, can cause death in 40% to 50% of neonates if left untreated.  

Most neonatal infections are due to exposure to HSV located in the genital tract of the mother during birth. Sometimes an infection may occur during the earlier stages of pregnancy, or sometimes, it happens after birth.  

The chances of transmitting the virus to the infant are higher if it is the first time of the mother to be infected with genital HSV. The same thing is true if the virus has already reproduced in the host cell and is already spreading late in the pregnancy.  

Neonatal Herpes Encephalitis Risk Factors

There is a chance of neonatal HSV infection in the following instances: 

  • The mother is infected with HSV for the first time during the third trimester of the pregnancy. 
  • The mother does not have HSV antibodies. 
  • Invasive instruments, such as forceps, vacuum extractors, and fetal-scalp electrode monitoring devices, were used on the mother. 
  • The delivery occurs before 38 weeks of gestation. 
  • The mother is less than 21 years old. 
  • The HSV infection has already spread to the cervix of the mother (it should only be limited to her vulva). 

Signs and Symptoms

Infection of the herpes simplex virus in neonates can be divided into three groups, namely: 

  • Local skin infection – blisters that are small and filled with fluid can be seen on the skin, around the eyes, and the mouth. These blisters will burst, crust over, and then heal.  
  • Encephalitis – occurs when there is inflammation in the brain. It may lead to problems in the brain and spinal cord function. Seizures may occur.  
  • Disseminated herpes infections – this is the most dangerous kind of HSV infection. The virus spreads throughout the body and attacks several organs, such as the brain, kidney, liver, and lungs.

It is critical to catch the signs and symptoms early on to provide immediate medical attention. Some of the signs the infant may show include: 

  • Irritability 
  • Difficulty breathing (grunting, cyanosis or blue appearance, brief periods of no breathing, or rapid breathing) 
  • Blisters on the body 
  • Bleeding easily  
  • Jaundice

An infected infant may or may not have all the symptoms listed above. In fact, most symptoms appear at the end of the baby’s 1st week. The serious central nervous system problems will not show until the baby’s 2nd week.  

How is Neonatal Herpes Diagnosed?

Several methods can be used to diagnose HSV in neonates, including the following: 

  • Blood or plasma test 
  • Skin culture (the health professional will get a small sample if the infant has a blister) 
  • Swab culture using samples obtained from the throat, nose or rectum 
  • Urine test 
  • Lumbar puncture of the cerebral spinal fluid


Babies that have suspected or diagnosed HSV need to get intravenous acyclovir right away. It is critical to administer treatment right away, especially if the disseminated infection has already occurred.  

Treatment may last for 14 to 21 days, depending on the type of infection. If the baby’s eyes are also infected, a topical ophthalmic solution is needed. The baby also needs to be checked by an ophthalmologist. If treated promptly, a baby with HSV is assured of having very positive outcomes.  

The Clark Law Office Can Help You with a Potential Medical Malpractice Case

When a doctor becomes negligent in caring for a pregnant woman with neonatal herpes encephalitis, he can be made liable. That includes failing to diagnose or treat HSV in the mother or infant, failing to inform the mother of the expected risks during delivery, or failing to deliver the baby properly without causing infection.  

Allow us to handle your medical malpractice case for you, and let our experienced lawyers guide you throughout the process. Call us today at (517) 347-6900 or fill out our form to book an appointment. Rest assured, The Clark Law Office will work hard, so you get the monetary compensation you rightfully deserve.

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