Alarming Fact: Kissing Newborns puts them at Risk

Dr. Faisal Khan
MBBS, SMLE, MPH, MCPS, MRCPCH-UK (Scholar), Al-Dar Hospital Madina Munawara, Saudi Arabia.

It’s good that our general public is not so much germophobic. Most of us are not giving daily bath to our kids, especially in winter due to fear of becoming sick. Infect in the routine life close interaction with our family members, friends, office colleagues and other people are the major cause of exposure to germs, which is infect good to build up our immunity, and science is supporting this idea, but with one exclusion to this principle for newborns. As we know kissing newborns right after the day of their birth is our tradition and our regularly repeated social habit.

So, may be this advice will not become much popular, but I have to step forward to educate our general public, and to warn them that kissing newborns puts them at risk. Keep your lips, dirty hands, and horrible germs away from neonate. Don’t kiss newborns you may harm them.

Winters are just approaching, every year during this season there is a big increase in the spells of viral flu, specially from October to February. During this period there are more attacks from Respiratory Syncytial Virus. RSV is the major cause of bronchiolitis in newborn, which may terminally end up as pneumonia. In newborns and infants pneumonia is the biggest killer . I would like to mention here an incident while I was working as a registrar in paediatrics department of Rehman Medical Institute Peshawar. I was assisting consultant’s OPD.

My consultant requested me to see a newborn who just landed in paediatrics ER with some respiratory problem. The patient was 21 days old newborn with severe respiratory distress, the child was urgently oxygenated, intubated and shifted to NICU for further management. The newborn was diagnosed with a pneumonia, requiring urgent medical treatment.

He was a single male issue after 5 sister siblings of a family from Wazirastan, while digging out history we found one of the sister siblings was suffering from a viral flu and was closely affectious to the newborn, as he was her first brother, so she used to kiss him frequently. Finally, the child was improved and discharged but we got the lesson.

Although newborns are blessed with great attraction, sweetness, softness and fresh fragrance just like flowers. All this goodness is a method of nature to make sure that parents of newborns should take very good care and look after them, and happily listen their loud and intense cries and ready to face the month of sleeplessness. But newborns are delicate and they are prone to get infection easily due to their low immunity.

Newborn babies have immature immune systems and haven’t been fully vaccinated yet, they are vulnerable to all kinds of infections and illnesses. It is literally a matter of life and death. In fact, a baby actually died when it contracted meningitis from a seemingly innocent kiss from someone with a cold sore or carrier of RSV.

Kissing may spread viral infection to newborn or infants particularly RSV infection during upcoming winter season. This viral flu may be just a usual flu for adults but this may be fatal for newborns & infants as RSV spreads through droplet infection. There are also several other publicized cases of babies catching herpes from someone who was unaware that they were infected or contagious.

We leave our new born baby fighting for his life when we kiss her with our germy mouths and dirty hands, never pausing to think about the nasty bacteria, dangerous viruses, and infections we’re exposing them to. I still remember that night when I was covering neonatal intensive care unit in Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) Women’s Hospital Peshawar, I received a call from a post-natal unit to see a baby who was born 24 hours before through an emergency C/S.

The baby was examined with complaint of reflectance to feed, lethargy and fever. This was a precious baby who was born after 10 years of marriage to a couple of Kurram Agency. Child was admitted as a case of sepsis / meningitis, and was commenced on treatment.  Next day lumber puncture was done, and treatment started for meningitis. Unfortunately, the baby could not survived in spite of medication. A nurse observed the precious baby was handled with more affection by a dozen of family members including one of them suffering from flu who visited this baby, before this incident happened.

I know what most of parents might think. “Oh, what is this, more rules from hyper-suspicious, over-sensitive, mummy-daddy parents telling us what we can and can’t do”. No dear…no, it is really too much important, it’s not that complicated to understand. Don’t kiss newborn babies is a rule based on just basic common sense, human decency, and a very general principle of good hygiene, so don’t kiss the baby. Just don’t do it. For that matter, also don’t let the baby suck on your fingers. Don’t cough or sneeze on the baby. In fact, for the love of all that is holy, just stay away if you’re sick. No one likes to be sneezed on.

This is not a perpetual pause against kisses, of course. Once your bud has been vaccinated with in next few months and has improved immunity. I mean, after his infant age you can do cuddling with your baby, for sure then your baby will crawl from bedroom to kitchen and kitchen to lounge everywhere. Although sometimes “no kiss” rule had caused our close relatives specially mother-in-law too much sad even sometimes they cry uncontrollably and say: “why you people are not allowing to kiss that cute newborn baby” but we should keep in mind that most of adults a possible carrier of RSV or HSV.

As we know neonatal herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection is one of the most serious perinatal infections. Although 85 per cent of infections are acquired during delivery, in utero (five per cent) and postnatal (ten per cent) infections can also occur. Postnatal infection can be acquired from the infant’s mother or from non-maternal sources, including father, siblings, grandparents and other relatives, or even hospital personnel.

RSV and HSV both types of virus can be transmitted to a newborn bub if a person has a cold sore and kisses the baby. Cold sores are most contagious when they burst, but they remain so until they’re completely healed. According to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, babies infected by the HSV may have following symptoms:

– become lacking in energy (listless)
– stop feeding
– be floppy
– have a high temperature (fever)
– have a high-pitched cry
– have breathing difficulties or grunting
– breathe rapidly
– have a blue tongue and skin
– have a rash

While it sometimes only affects newborn’s eyes, mouth or skin, the condition is far more serious if it spreads to their organs. As per NHS “Nearly a third of infants with this type of neonatal herpes will die, even after they’ve been treated”. Stop kissing to newborn is not enough, we should take following measures along with, if we have any newborn around as a most beautiful gift of nature, specially all new parents need to know that:

– Ensure all caregivers and the mother are properly immunised.
– Practice good hand washing habits.
– Ensure that anyone who has any illness, specially flu, common cold, rash, shingles or cold sores avoids close direct contact with a newborn.

“People can definitely make a baby sick by kissing them,” says Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “Saliva carries a lot of germs. If they aren’t sick, then the baby won’t get sick, but if they have a cold or other virus or bacteria, it can easily be spread by kissing”.

Newborns have immature immune systems, making them more defenseless to severe illnesses from viruses and bacteria that cause only mild illness in older children and adults, Dr. Emily Edwards, a pediatrician at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, she tells: herpes virus that can cause cold sores in adults can cause neonatal meningitis in a newborn.

In short, people with any sort of infection or potentially infectious never kiss any newborn or infant. Someone who has an active respiratory condition (common cold, undiagnosed chronic cough condition, suspected influenza), an obvious infection (like chickenpox), cold sore, or an active intestinal illness (diarrhea/vomiting) definitely should stay away from contact with newborn babies and definitely should never kiss newborns you may put them at risk.