Baby died from hospital acquired cold sore virus infection days after birth

‘For the past three years we have had to live with the unspeakable horror of losing our baby girl to an entirely preventable disease’

 John and Louise Wills with photos of their baby daughter Eibhlín Wills who died aged  12 days old from the common cold sore virus. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

John and Louise Wills with photos of their baby daughter Eibhlín Wills who died aged 12 days old from the common cold sore virus. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins


A 12-day-old baby died after contracting the common cold sore virus in hospital days after her birth, Dublin Coroner’s Court has heard.

Eibhlín Wills acquired the infection in the first five days of her life, the inquest into her death heard. Blood tests had shown no sign of the infection three days after her birth, but the infection was present in samples taken at five days.

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane found the infant died due to a hospital acquired infection. Her family described the loss of Eibhlín to a “preventable disease” as an “unspeakable horror”.

“While it has been extremely painful to go through the details’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,” her father, John Wills, said.

Baby Eibhlín Wills at two days old.
Baby Eibhlín Wills at two days old.

Dr Cullinane recommended that the Minister for Health include neonatal herpes as a formally notifiable disease and endorsed and commended the Wills’ family for raising awareness of the dangers of the virus.

Eibhlín, the first -born child of John and Louise Wills, of Boden Park, Rathfarnham, was born on November 19th, 2015 at the National Maternity Hospital (NMH). She was cared for at the hospital until November 24th.

“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 of Eibhlín after the inquest. “We spent those first few days getting used to her. She was feeding well and sleeping well and settled into her little routine.”

A public health nurse visited the family on November 27th and was happy with the baby’s progress.

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

‘Went limp’

Days later Eibhlín was feeding less and seemed tired so her parents phoned the hospital and were told to bring the baby in if they were 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 1st.

A postmortem 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. He found no other abnormalities or underlying vulnerabilities other than the infant’s age.

Baby Eibhlín Wills at three days old.
Baby Eibhlín Wills at three days old.

“This was an overwhelming primary infection and it was a recent infection,” Dr McDermott said.

The inquest heard details of ongoing training to prevent cross-contamination at the NMH and that staff with a visible cold sore are expected to cover it with a patch.

Obstetrician Prof Mary Higgins said Eibhlín was a “a beautiful little girl who left us far too soon”. She said the infant’s death from the virus had an impact on NMH staff.

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.”

Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane said it had been an “affecting inquest” and commended the family for raising awareness of what had happened.

“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.”