- While not new to the US, the CDC said it has reported multiple cases since May 2022
- Most cases involve the PeV-A3 strain, which is most commonly associated with serious illness
- Symptoms can include fever, skin rash, and respiratory infections in children 6 months to 5 years of age
First the coronavirus. Then the monkeypox virus. Now the parechovirus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert last week warning parents and pediatricians about the potentially dangerous pathogen circulate in the country.
The agency said it had received multiple reports of infections since May and encouraged health care providers to test for them when patients show certain symptoms.
The CDC said most reports concern the PeV-A3 strain, which is most commonly associated with serious disease. The agency did did not say which states have reported infections or if there have been any deaths related to the virus.
Here’s what else you should know.
What is Parechovirus?
Parechoviruses are common childhood pathogens that are similar to enteroviruses like poliovirus, said Dr. Rick Malley, infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.
There are four types of the virus, only PeV-A being known to cause disease in humans. PeV-A has multiple strains, but PeV-A3 is most commonly associated with serious illness in the newborn, the elderly and the immune-compromised, experts said.
Parechoviruses aren’t new to the US, Malley said, but surveillance was limited until a few years ago. It is therefore unclear whether they occur more frequently compared to previous years.
“They are around us all the time, and they were. They usually cause more disease in the summer and fall,” he said. “What’s somewhat unusual is that the CDC is reporting them a few months ago, suggesting that … the natural epidemiology of these COVID-related viruses has changed.”
Parechovirus rash and other signs, symptoms
Parechoviruses can range from asymptomatic to severe disease, according to experts.
The CDC said the symptoms most commonly seen in children ages 6 months to 5 years include respiratory infections, fever and rash. In infants younger than 3 months, symptoms may include fever, sepsis-like syndrome, or neurological disorders including seizures and meningitis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, meningitis is inflammation of the fluid and membranes that line the brain and spinal cord and can cause headaches, fever, and a stiff neck.
“Any indication that the child is not thriving, fever, lethargy, irritability, lack of interest in eating or drinking, seizures, uncontrolled movements…these are very important signs that they should contact their doctor immediately if the parents notice them” , Malley said .
How is parechovirus transmitted?
The CDC said infected people can transmit the virus, whether they are asymptomatic or showing symptoms, by coming into contact with feces And through Respiratory tract.
A person can be contagious for one to three weeks via the respiratory tract and up to six months via the gastrointestinal tract, the agency said.
Although someone could be contagious for a long time, Malley said the actual illness could only last a few days.
“It’s a spectrum, as we’ve learned with COVID,” he said. “There are some kids who recover quickly and other kids who seem to have a harder time dealing with it and may be nauseous for three to five days.”
Otherwise, Malley called it “a very short-lived, self-resolving infection.”
Can babies die from it?
Overall, serious illness and death from parechoviruses are very rare. Most children get it at least once before they turn 5, but may not know it because they’ve had a mild or asymptomatic infection and haven’t been tested for it, said Dr. Claire Bocchini, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“For children who are otherwise ‘okay’ with a mild illness, we don’t test them for everything. It’s very expensive and doesn’t change the treatment,” Bocchini said.
In rare cases, the virus can damage multiple organs in the body, such as the liver, brain and lungs, she said. It can cause permanent brain damage and the patient could die.
“It’s very rare,” she said. “Most children don’t have a serious illness, but in a small number, especially young infants, it can be very life-threatening.”
Newborns are more likely to develop serious infections compared to other age groups as their immune systems develop, Bocchini said.
What should parents do if they think their child has parechovirus?
There is no specific treatment for parechovirus, but Malley encouraged parents to see a doctor if their baby develops symptoms.
It is important for doctors to assess the severity of the disease and report a positive case to the CDC so experts can better understand the spread of the virus in the United States.
To manage symptoms at home, Malley recommends over-the-counter medications to control the baby’s fever, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen and plenty of hydration.
How to prevent parechovirus?
According to experts, one of the most important ways to prevent transmission of parechovirus is good hand hygiene.
Malley also recommends limiting the number of people outside the household interacting with the baby. Instead of kissing the child’s face and hands, he suggests that outside visitors should kiss feet or toes.
“Although having a child is a very happy event, we don’t want a large number of people to come in and pick up the child and kiss it,” Malley said. “It’s reasonable to be aware and concerned if you happen to have a baby in your home.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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