The BBC have reported this morning that two “new mothers who died of herpes could have been infected by one surgeon” at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust. It is reported that both women underwent Caesarean sections in 2018 and subsequently died as the result of herpes simplex virus, known as HSV-1, a matter of weeks apart.
It is very rare for a woman to die during or following childbirth. Only 191 women died within 6 weeks of giving birth between 2017 and 2019, during which time there were more than 2.1 million births in the UK. Deaths caused by HSV-1 are also very rare. Some people develop cold sores around their mouth or sores on their genitals, but many people have no symptoms at all.
It is understood that East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust was unable to identify the source of the infection and that the families of the women were told that there was no connection between their deaths.
The BBC has reported that “Neither woman’s baby was found to have been infected with the virus” and “Both women had what is known as a primary infection – meaning that this was the first time they had been infected by herpes.” Both deaths were reported to the coroner but more than a year later, the coroner decided that inquests were not required on the basis that the similarities between the deaths were coincidental.
The BBC investigated matters further and “found further cases of preventable baby deaths” at East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust. A formal review of maternity services at the Trust is now ongoing.
It has arisen that a midwife and a surgeon were involved with the Caesarean sections of both women. A private lab instructed by Public Health England advised that that the strains of the HSV-1 found in both women were the same. The strain was said to be “rare” when “compared with the previous 10 years of herpes virus samples collected at its lab in North London”.
The BBC article includes comment from Peter Greenhouse a consultant in sexual health. It is understood that his view is that it is likely that the women picked up the infection whilst they were in hospital and that the transmission of the infection could have occurred during the Caesarean sections. The families of the two women are now calling for inquests to be opened into their deaths.
You can read more about the BBC’s investigation here: New mothers who died of herpes could have been infected by one surgeon – BBC News.