When people think of herpes, they often think of cold sores or blisters and lesions in the genital area, but herpes can manifest on other parts of the body, including the breasts.
The majority of oral herpes cases (cases in which the infection manifests on or near the mouth) are caused by HSV-1 (herpes simplex virus type 1). Most genital herpes cases (cases where symptoms manifest on or near the genitals) are caused by HSV-2, a different strain of the herpes virus—although instances of HSV-1 genital herpes infections are on the rise due to more and more people participating in oral sex. Herpes can be contracted even when no visible signs or symptoms are present.
Oral herpes can be spread from sharing drinks, straws, and eating utensils, as well as kissing and other actions that involve the having the mouth on body parts. These strains of the virus are spread via skin or mucous membrane contact. While it is rare to have the point of a herpes infection be the breasts, it does happen. For example, foreplay or sexual activity that involves the breasts and/or nipples with contact from a mouth or potentially the genitals of someone with a herpes infection can lead to an infection of the breast(s) and result in herpes lesions.
This is especially serious for breastfeeding mothers, as babies can potentially contract an oral herpes infection while breastfeeding if the mother has a herpes infection that originated at her breast. The reverse is also possible—if an infant has contracts herpes from a kiss from a family member, friend or neighbor with a symptomatic or asymptomatic herpes infection, they can pass it along to their mother. Herpes is not spread through breastmilk.
To help prevent the spread of herpes to an infant:
- Never allow the baby to touch a sore or blister with any part of their body
- Never kiss a baby if you have a cold sore
- Never touch a baby after touching a sore or blister unless you have thoroughly washed your hands after
Herpes cases are especially dangerous to infants and can be deadly, as they are most susceptible to herpes meningitis or herpes encephalitis.
Herpes is not curable, however, outbreaks and the frequency of outbreaks can be managed with antiviral medication.