- Although not new to the United States, the CDC said it has received multiple case reports since May 2022.
- Most cases are the PeV-A3 strain, which is most often associated with severe disease
- Symptoms may include fever, rash and respiratory tract infection in children 6 months to 5 years old
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 that the potentially dangerous pathogen is circulating in the country.
The agency said it had received several reports of infection since May and encouraged health care providers to test it when patients show certain symptoms.
The CDC said most of the reports were for the PeV-A3 strain, which is most often associated with severe disease. The agency did not say which states have reported infections or whether there have been any deaths associated with the virus.
Here’s what else you need to know.
What is parechovirus?
Parechoviruses are common childhood pathogens similar to enteroviruses such as poliovirus, said Dr. Rick Malley, infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.
There are four types of virus, of which only PeV-A is known to cause disease in humans. PeV-A has several strains, but PeV-A3 is most often associated with severe disease in newborns, the elderly and immunocompromised people, experts said.
Parechoviruses aren’t new to the United States, Malley said, but surveillance was limited until a few years ago. It is therefore unclear whether they are more widespread compared to previous years.
“They are around us all the time, and they have been. They generally cause more disease in summer and fall,” he said. “What’s a bit unusual is that the CDC has been reporting them for a few months, suggesting that…the natural epidemiology of these viruses has changed in the context of COVID.”
Parechoviral rash and other signs, symptoms
Parechoviruses can range from asymptomatic to severe illness, experts have said.
The CDC said the most common symptoms seen in children 6 months to 5 years old include respiratory tract infection, fever and rash. In infants younger than 3 months, symptoms may include fever, sepsis-like syndrome, or neurological disease including seizures and meningitis.
Meningitis is inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, according to the Mayo Clinic, and can cause headaches, fever and stiff neck.
“Any evidence that the child is not growing, fever, lethargy, irritability, lack of interest in food or drink, convulsions, uncontrolled movements…these are very important signs that if the parent notices, contact their doctor right away,” Malley said. .
How are parechoviruses transmitted?
The CDC said infected people can transmit the virus whether they are asymptomatic or show symptoms by coming into contact with feces. and through respiratory tracts.
A person can be contagious for one to three weeks through the respiratory tract and up to six months through the gastrointestinal tract, the agency said.
Although a person can be contagious for a long time, Malley said the actual illness can only last a few days.
“It’s a spectrum, as we’ve learned with COVID,” he said. “Some children recover quickly and other children seem to have a harder time coping and could be sick for three to five days.”
Otherwise, Malley called it “a very short-lived, self-resolving infection.”
Can babies die from it?
Overall, severe illness and death from parechoviruses is very rare. Most children catch it at least once before they are 5, but may not know it because they had a mild or asymptomatic infection and were not tested, said specialist Dr Claire Bocchini of infectious diseases at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“In children who are otherwise ‘OK’ with mild disease, we don’t test them for everything. It’s very expensive and it doesn’t change management,” Bocchini said.
In rare cases, the virus could damage multiple organs in the body such as the liver, brain and lungs, she said. This 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 of infants, especially young ones, it can be very deadly.”
Newborns are more likely to develop serious infections than 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 parechoviruses, but Malley encouraged parents to see a clinician if their baby has symptoms.
It’s important for doctors to assess the severity of the disease, he said, and report a positive case to the CDC, so experts can better understand the prevalence of the virus in the United States.
To manage symptoms at home, Malley recommends over-the-counter medications to control baby’s fever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and many of hydration.
How to prevent parechovirus?
One of the most important ways to prevent parechovirus transmission is to practice good hand hygiene, experts have said.
Malley also recommends limiting the number of people outside the household who interact with the baby. Instead of kissing the child’s face and hands, he suggests, outside visitors should kiss the feet or toes.
“Even though it’s a very happy event to have a child, we don’t want a lot of people to pick up the child and kiss him,” Malley said. “It’s appropriate to be aware and concerned if you have a baby at home.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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