Can babies get cold sores? Causes, treatment, and risks

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many children will start to get cold sores by the age of 5. Newborns rarely get cold sores, but, when a baby who is less than 6 months old contracts the cold sore virus, it can have severe effects.

Babies can catch the cold sore virus through contact with a cold sore on another person. Therefore, people with a cold sore should avoid kissing babies or letting babies touch the sore.

If caregivers think that a baby may have come into contact with a cold sore, they should monitor the infant for any unusual behavior and contact a doctor to discuss the best course of action.

This article will take a close look at cold sores in newborns and infants, including the risks, treatment, and prevention.

What are cold sores?

Cold sores are tiny blisters that form on and around the lips, often at the edge. The blisters pop within a few days and turn into a crust. They disappear within a few weeks.

Cold sores are contagious and spread through close contact. This can include kissing and sharing cups, utensils, or towels.

When people get a cold sore, they may notice itching, tingling, or burning before the blisters become visible. Cold sores can spread at this stage, but they become most contagious when the blisters are visible.

The herpes simplex virus 1, known as HSV-1, is responsible for cold sores. This virus is similar to the virus that causes genital herpes, called HSV-2.

While a herpes infection is not usually harmful in older children, newborns and babies can experience complications.

When children get their first cold sore, the symptoms may be more severe and can include a fever, sore throat, and blisters that spread beyond the lips and into the mouth.

Early symptoms of herpes infection in a newborn include:

  • a low-grade fever, which is 100.4°F
  • poor feeding
  • one or more small skin blisters

A newborn may then experience more severe symptoms such as:

  • a high fever
  • seizures
  • lethargy or going floppy

Cold sores pose the highest risk to infants during the first weeks of their lives. The herpes virus can cause severe problems at this stage and may even be fatal if it spreads to the organs, including the eyes, brain, or lungs.

People should see their doctor immediately if they suspect that a baby has a herpes infection.

It is not necessary for caregivers with cold sores to isolate themselves from babies, but they should avoid letting them come into contact with the sores. Once a cold sore turns scabby and dry, it is usually no longer contagious.

People with a cold sore can do the following to keep an infant safe:

  • washing the hands regularly and thoroughly, especially before touching the infant
  • covering the cold sore and not touching it, especially before or during contact with the infant
  • using separate towels, washcloths, cups, and utensils for the infant
  • avoiding kissing the infant
  • teaching older children to avoid kissing or sharing utensils or towels with people with cold sores
  • ensuring that infants and children do not rub their eyes if they have a cold sore


Newborns do not often get cold sores. However, during the early weeks of their lives, contact with cold sores can be dangerous. Medical attention is necessary.

Older infants will experience cold sores in the same way as children and adults, although the first outbreak can be more severe.

Cold sores can be uncomfortable, but they are not serious and generally resolve within a few weeks.

Caregivers should take an infant to see a doctor if they are concerned about cold sores or related symptoms.

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