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THINK hands and no kisses: preventing Neonatal Herpes

THINK hands and no kisses: preventing Neonatal Herpes

Neonatal herpes is a serious infection, which, in some cases, can be fatal. In this article Sarah de Malplaquet, CEO and Founder of Kit Tarka Foundation, explains the current campaign and the development of the charity, following the preventable death of her son, Kit. She points to the role of midwives in prevention of this condition.

Kit Tarka Foundation is the charity I founded after the preventable death of my son Kit. Kit was born healthy at full term but contracted the herpes virus in hospital postnatally and died when he was just 13 days old.

Last week we launched our THANKS: Think Hands And No Kisses campaign to highlight the importance of good hygiene around young babies and we are seeking the support of midwives and other health professionals to help spread the word.

The campaign is in response to our Babies at Risk: Neonatal Herpes Awareness report1 which, from a survey of over 1,500 expectant and new parents, found a worrying lack of awareness of the dangers of herpes infections in babies and a significant number of visitors not following preventative hygiene measures.

Neonatal herpes is a rare, and potentially fatal, disease which usually occurs in the the first four week of a baby’s life. It is caused by the same virus which causes cold sores and genital infections – herpes simplex virus or HSV. 70% of the UK adult population carry the virus2 yet often symptoms are so mild that they go unnoticed, and many people have no symptoms at all3. HSV is much rarer in very young babies but can be extremely dangerous, leading to significant disability or even death. Although rare, studies have shown that the incidence rate of neonatal HSV in the UK has been rising in recent years. There are now at least 50 cases a year in the UK4 with one study suggesting as many as 140 cases and 65 mortalities5.

Most neonatal herpes infections are transmitted from mothers and birthing parents with active genital herpes to their babies during delivery, however, a substantial proportion are contracted after birth from someone with an active herpes infection e.g. cold sore or herpetic whitlow on the finger.

We conducted a survey between September and November 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to examine awareness and behaviours regarding potentially dangerous infections in young babies, including HSV.

The survey revealed that:

  • 60% of new and expectant parents don’t know that herpes infections in young babies can be fatal.


  • More than 1 in 6 parents would allow a person they don’t know well to touch their baby without washing their hands.


  • 1/3 of parents would not ask friends and family to wash their hands before holding their young baby.


  • 45% of parents would allow friends and family to kiss their baby, but 52% of these would do so reluctantly.


  • Numerous parents told us their babies had been kissed by friends and family members without consent being given but found it awkward and uncomfortable to ask others to change their behaviour.


As a response to these findings, we launched a new campaign to remind anyone coming into contact with a young baby to remember their THANKS: Think Hands And No Kisses.

We hope the campaign will open up the conversation and help parents feel empowered to make their wishes clear.

We are seeking support from midwives and other health professionals to remind new parents of the importance of good hygiene around young babies.

Join our THANKS campaign and help keep babies safe from infection.


We have some resources to for health professionals which are all available free of charge on our website:


Further information and reading:



  1. Kit Tarka Foundation (2022), Babies at Risk: Neonatal Herpes Awareness,org
  2. Clinical Effectiveness Group of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) (2018), HSV Public Information Leaflet, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV
  3. James, C. et al. (2020), Herpes simplex virus: global infection prevalence and incidence estimates, 2016. Bull World Health Organ 2020;98:315–329
  4. British Paediatric Surveillance Unit (2021), BPSU Annual Report 2020-21, British Paediatric Surveillance Unit/Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  5. Batra, D. et al (2014), The incidence and presentation of neonatal herpes in a single UK tertiary centre, 2006-2013. Archives of Disease in Childhood: Education and Practice Edition,99(10) 916-921