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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What you need to know about Germany’s new parental benefits reforms

Juggling family life and work can be tough. A new series of reforms on parental allowances and time off work after the birth a child aim to make it easier.

What you need to know about Germany's new parental benefits reforms
A father walks with his child in the fall in Ludwigsburg. Photo: DPA

The Bundestag passed a series of reforms on Friday, with the aim of helping families reconcile personal and work life even better, said Family Minister Franziska Giffey of the Social Democrats (SPD).

Mothers and fathers of premature babies are to receive Elterngeld (parental allowance given out during the Elternzeit, or parental leave) for longer in future.

In addition, options for part-time work while receiving Elterngeld and for sharing Elternzeit between mothers and fathers will be expanded.

The reforms have to pass through the Bundesrat, and will likely come into force in September.

Extra benefits for early birth

For children born six weeks before the due date of birth, an additional month of Elterngeld is to be paid under the new regulations.

If the child is born eight weeks early, two additional months will be granted, three extra months will be given for children born 12 weeks early and four additional months if there was an early birth of 16 weeks. 

“We want to give parents special support during this difficult and emotionally demanding time, so that they can give their children the attention they need,” said CDU/CSU deputy parliamentary party leader Nadine Schön.

Who receives Elterngeld?

Elterngeld is one of the most important state family benefits, with more than €7 billion spent on it each year. Mothers and fathers receive the benefit if they do not work or work part time after the the birth of their child. 

The state supports this with a minimum of €300 and a maximum of €1800 per month – depending on the net earnings before the birth of the child. 

It is paid for a maximum of 14 months if both parents participate in the Elternzeit. The payment period can also be extended further but with smaller monthly payments.

READ ALSO: Here’s how Germany plans to reform Elterngeld for new parents

More flexible rules

The rules for parents who want to work part-time while receiving Elterngeld will also be made more flexible under the new rules: the amount of weekly permitted working hours will increase from 30 to 32 hours – making a four-day work week mathematically possible. 

In addition, the requirements for the so-called partnership bonus, if both parents work part-time at the same time, will be relaxed.

To finance the changes, top-earning couples with a combined income of more than €300,000 will no longer receive Elterngeld. The limit was previously €500,000.

According to the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, the plans are also intended to ease the bureaucratic burden on parents, parental allowance offices and employers. 

For example, parents who work part-time while receiving Elterngeld would only have to provide proof of their working hours in exceptional cases.

What do opposition parties say?

The opposition criticised parts of the proposal: The reform is overdue, said the Free Democrats (FDP), who at the same time called for the time in which parents receive Elterngeld be extended in some instances.

For  example, this could apply if parents may take their children to Kitas (daycare) for the first time later than originally planned due to coronavirus related restrictions, and need to spend more time at home with them.

The Left Party called for the minimum amount of parental allowance to be increased from €300 to €400 and from €150 to €200 euros for the so-called Elterngeld Plus, which allows parents to work part time during their Elternzeit.

The far-right (Alternative for Germany) AfD criticized the plans as “meagre tinkering” with a system in need of more fundamental reform.