Parents describe 'unspeakable horror' after 12-day-old baby Eibhlín died from common cold sore virus

Parents describe 'unspeakable horror' after 12-day-old baby Eibhlín died from common cold sore virus
Baby Eibhlín at two days old. Photo: Collins

Louise Roseingrave

A 12-day-old baby girl died after contracting the common cold sore virus in hospital days after birth, an inquest into her death heard.

Baby Eibhlín Wills acquired the infection in the first five days of her life. 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 family described the loss of their precious baby as an "unspeakable horror".

“For the past three years, we have had to live with the unspeakable horror of losing our baby girl to an entirely preventable disease. While it has been extremely painful to go through the details again...today’s verdict gives us the opportunity to again warn the public and especially the families of newborns and those caring for them, of the potential danger of the common cold sore virus,” baby Eibhlín’s father, John Wills, said.

The coroner recommended that the Minister for Health 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.

"She was a babbly, amenable baby, goo-ing and gaa-ing and making noises. She was this tiny little person who was incredibly alert for her age,” Mr Wills said, describing his baby after the inquest.

He told Dublin Coroner’s Court how the couple cared for their newborn after bringing her home.

“We spent those first few days getting used to her. She was feeding well and sleeping well and settled into her little routine,” he said.

The public health nurse visited the family on November 27.

“The nurse was very happy with her. That weekend Eibhlín seemed to have picked up a cold. She was sniffling a little but she was still feeding,” Mr Wills said.

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.

“Very suddenly Eibhlín went limp and her colour changed. We drove her straight to Tallaght Hospital,” Mr Wills said. Resuscitation attempts failed and the baby was pronounced dead at 1.09am on December 1.

John and Louise Wills with photos of their baby daughter Eibhlín Wills outside the Coroner's Court, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
John and Louise Wills with photos of their baby daughter Eibhlín Wills outside the Coroner's Court, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

A post-mortem 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.

'A beautiful little girl who left us far too soon'

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".

Baby Eibhlín at three days old. Photo: Collins
Baby Eibhlín at three days old. Photo: Collins

She said the infant's death from the virus had an impact on NMH staff.

"When you are looking after a person who is sick you have to be so careful not to pass it onto another person. 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 autopsy.

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 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 of the dangers of the HSV 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.

“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,” the coroner said.

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