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Child dies of ‘herpes’ – but not herpes simplex

BBC South East reports that “Raffy Holliday, from Deal in Kent, tested positive for the HHV6 strain in hospital, and he died in March,” but this was not herpes simplex: parents don’t need to be worried about this.

The reporters don’t explain that HHV-6 – commonly called roseola – is not ‘herpes’ in the usual sense. When anyone says ‘herpes’ people think of genital herpes. The reporters didn’t check to find that there are 9 different conditions caused by 9 different herpes viruses. Other well-known herpes viruses are chickenpox (HHV-3) and glandular fever (HHV-4).

Infections with human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) are very common. In fact, almost 100% of us will have encountered it. There are two types of HHV-6 (A and B) and the one Raffy had will have been HHV-6B, not herpes simplex. Roseola is common childhood disease expected to resolve without treatment. The child may have high fever for a few days, and a mild skin rash may develop. Sometimes, paracetamol or ibuprofen might be given.

But Raffy had leukemia. This means his immune system was not able to function in the normal way. Parents of children (who do not have such a serious condition) do not need to worry if their children develop roseola. They will be well in a few days or so…