Cold sore virus killed baby girl Eibhlín at 12 days old

A baby girl just 12 days old died after contracting the common cold sore virus in hospital.

Baby Eibhlín Wills acquired the infection in the first five days of her life, an inquest into her death heard. Blood tests showed no sign of the infection three days after birth but the infection was present in samples taken when Eibhlín was five days old.

Dublin Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane found the infant died due to a hospital-acquired infection.

The coroner recommended that the Health Minister include neonatal herpes as a formally notifiable disease and endorsed and commended the Wills’ family’s efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of neonatal herpes. Parents John and Louise Wills, from Boden Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16, welcomed baby Eibhlín, their first-born, into the world on November 19, 2015.

She was born at the National Maternity Hospital where she was cared for until her discharge on November 24 and a public health nurse visited the family three days later.

By Monday the infant was feeding less and she seemed tired. John and Louise phoned the hospital and were told to bring the baby in if they remained concerned. They called Louise’s mother who arrived at their home at 11.30pm and the child went limp in her arms.

They drove straight to Tallaght Hospital but resuscitation attempts failed and the baby was pronounced dead at 1.09am on December 1.

A post-mortem examination conducted by Dr Michael McDermott gave the cause of death as disseminated neonatal herpes simplex virus type 1, the virus that causes the common cold sore.

Dr McDermott found no other abnormalities or underlying vulnerabilities other than the infant’s age.

“This was an overwhelming primary infection and it was a recent infection,” Dr McDermott said.

The court heard details of ongoing training to prevent cross-contamination at the National Maternity Hospital (NMH). Staff with a visible cold sore are expected to cover it with a patch.

Obstetrician Prof Mary Higgins said baby Eibhlín was “a beautiful little girl who left us far too soon” and all staff took great care not to pass on any sickness to babies.

“Basic principals of hand hygiene are integrated into training as a student and again at induction days. Infection control staff give talks on hand hygiene and universal precautions. Before you approach someone you wash your hands so as not to pass on any bacteria,” she said.

Virologist Prof Cillian De Gascun performed laboratory tests on blood samples provided by the hospital following the post-mortem.

“The challenge with herpes is you can actually transmit the virus without having a cold sore. In a significant proportion of cases, there won’t be a cold sore and it’s passed on as it’s asymptomatic.”

Asked if the virus is more likely to be spread when a cold sore is present, Prof De Gascun said it was. Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of death due to a healthcare-acquired infection and commended the couple on their efforts to raise awareness about the virus.

“I endorse the ongoing raising of awareness of this condition for the public and other maternity hospitals in order this can be prevented as much as possible, although it is never possible to entirely eliminate tragedies such as this,” Dr Cullinane said.

“This is such an affecting inquest, you have been very active in the raising awareness and have to be commended on what you’ve done,” she added.

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