In 39 mothers of children with neonatal herpes simplex virus infection, maternal infection was serologically characterized retrospectively and was related to maternal clinical symptoms and to the clinical findings and outcome in the child. Thirteen mothers had a primary infection (six type 1, seven type 2), mostly with clinical symptoms. The mean age of onset of the disease of the infants was 7 days and a disseminated disease was most commonly found. Most of the type 1-infected children recovered completely, whereas all but one of the type 2-infected children died. Twenty mothers had a recurrent (2 type 1, 18 type 2) and 4 an intermediate infection (primary type 2, prior infection with type 1), mostly asymptomatic. Their children had a localized disease (of the skin-eye-mouth or the central nervous system) with onset at a mean age of 14 or 13 days, respectively. The frequency of neurological sequelae was high. Two mothers had no serological signs of herpes infection.