New father’s tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online

Tens of thousands of people in Germany have shared a Facebook post in which a new father explains how dangerous the herpes virus can be to babies – as illustrated by the tragic case of his own son.

New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
A baby in intensive care. File photo: DPA

It should have been one of the happiest times any family gets to experience.

Thorsten, 34, from Hamburg and his wife had just celebrated the birth of their son, John. Baby and mother had come home from the hospital and were apparently doing well.

But as the grief-stricken father explained in a May 9th Facebook post seen by thousands in recent days, the joy of a new baby was to be short-lived.

“About 14 days after he was born John became restless, started stretching and having shivering spells,” Thorsten wrote.

The midwife advised the young parents to bring John to a doctor the following day.

That evening, the parents brought John to hospital where he was immediately whisked to paediatric intensive care.

Four days later came the diagnosis: the baby had herpes encephalitis. The herpes virus had made it into his brain and was causing dangerous inflammation.

“John got a herpes virus from somewhere that was able to spread into his brain because the blood-brain barrier wasn't yet developed,” Thorsten explained on Facebook.

“We wanted to make people aware of the treacherous consequences of an infection,” said Thorsten S. Photo: DPA

For John, the prognosis is bleak. Large parts of his brain have been damaged or destroyed by the infection, despite the doctors' best efforts, and he might yet die of the illness.

But Thorsten insists that “we don't want any sympathy. We want something more important.”

He asks simply that anyone with active cold sores stay away from babies.

“If you keep this in mind you could save a child's life and spare him suffering,” he wrote.

Too weak to fight

“[A newborn's] immune system isn't strong enough yet to fight the virus,” confirmed Antje Vogler, head of a paediatric unit in Pasewalk, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

Babies infected with herpes turn pale, become unresponsive, and may suffer seizures or cramping as well as a fever, she went on.

While it's rare for babies to become infected, herpes encephalitis is caused by the more common Type 1 herpes virus that causes cold sores – not the rarer Type 2 genital herpes.

“Before we were affected by it we had no idea that herpes could be so dangerous for babies,” Thorsten told news agency DPA.

The Facebook post was originally intended for friends and family only, but soon spread beyond those circles to tens of thousands of readers across Germany and beyond.

“If our Facebook post or the media coverage can save even one child, John's hard path will have gained meaning,” Thorsten said.

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Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?

A new Swiss divorce ruling sparks a proposal that parents who stay at home and take care of children while the other spouse works, should be compensated by the government.

Should stay-at-home parents in Switzerland be paid a salary?
Housework should be compensated by the government, some say. Photo by Guillaume Suivant / AFP

What is the new divorce rule?

Switzerland’s highest court has handed down a decision removing the responsibility of an employed spouse to financially support the partner who has not worked outside of home during marriage.

While the ruling doesn’t mention gender, it particularly affects women.

Specifically, the court lifted the so-called “45-year-old rule”, under which stay-at-home spouses were not obligated to support themselves after divorce, if they were over 45 years old.

In its ruling, the court said that “the possibility of gainful employment must always be assumed” regardless of age, though exemptions could be made in some situations, including care of small children, lack of professional experience, and health.

How has this ruling spawned off the idea of compensating stay-at-home parents?

It came from a Swiss writer and editor Sibylle Stillhart who said in an interview that “finding a well-paying job after not having been employed at all or only part-time for years is not easy, if not impossible”.

She added that taking care of housework and children, requires 58 hours a week of “unpaid labour”.

What does she propose?

She said the state should pay income for domestic work.

“This way, if a couple separates and the woman finds herself with her dependent children and no salaried work, she would nevertheless be supported by the community for the services rendered, in particular for the education of the children who, later, will also contribute to national prosperity through their work”.

Stillhart suggested that a monthly salary of 7,000 francs for a family with two children is fair.

“Don’t tell me that Switzerland is not rich enough for that “, she added.

READ MORE: ‘Unprecedented crisis’: New figures show stark impact of pandemic on all Swiss job sectors

Is this likely to happen?

Rudolf Minsch, economist at Economiesuisse, an umbrella organisation of Swiss businesses, said the proposal is not realistic.

“This would lead to massive tax increases. And it would not be profitable from the point of view of equality between men and women at the professional level, because women could be satisfied with this income and no longer seek to enter the labour market”, he said.

Is this idea new?

Not quite. While it’s the first one of its kind to be created as a response to new divorce rulings, the idea of basic income for everyone in Switzerland was floated around before.

On June 5, 2016, Swiss voters rejected the initiative “For an unconditional basic income”, which proposed that each resident receive 2,500 francs a month, regardless of whether they are employed or not. 

 All the cantons had said no, as had 76.9 percent of the population.

A few cantons stood out by being more open to the idea, such as Basel-City (36 percent in favour), Jura (35.8 percent) and Geneva (34.7 percent).

Despite this rejection, the idea continues to circulate in Switzerland and internationally.

READ MORE: What do teachers earn in Switzerland – and where do they earn the most?