Should Sister with Genital Herpes change my Baby’s Diapers?

Dear Dr. Tom:

My sister-in-law has genital herpes. I have an 8 week old baby girl. Should I let her change her diapers?

Dr. Tom’s Response:

Dear Mother of the Eight Week Old Girl:

Unless your sister-in-law has lesions on her hands, she is unlikely to pass the infection along. However, precautions should be taken that none of her affected body areas contact the baby. Does she have frequent, infrequent, or no known recent outbreaks? A normal precaution followed by many persons including neonatal care personnel is the use of one of the hand sanitizing lotions that contain ethyl alcohol. These are pleasant smelling, evaporate quickly, and although they do not produce sterile conditions, they lower the normal skin microbial population. I do not know if any of several available across-the-counter have been specifically tested by their manufacturers against HSV. Ethyl alcohol generally is effective against HSV. You might purchase a container and ask the local pharmacist if he has any anti-microbial data about the product specifically related to HSV. If he sells the product, he should have the data and should be willing to share it with a customer. As an alternative and at the possible risk of offending your sister, you might ask her to wear a clean, new pair of disposable latex gloves each time she handles the child. This is also standard procedure in a neonatal care unit and is nothing outrageous to be asked of a family member. Never re-use such gloves.


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