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What parents should know about parechovirus

By The Health News Team | October 13, 2022
Newborn baby in hospital

From new COVID-19 variants to hepatitis and mpox, there have been many public health emergencies causing concern. And another virus is now on the radar of health experts. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised the alarm about cases of parechovirus among newborns and young infants in several states.

Parechovirus is a common childhood virus, but it can affect anyone. Most children under age 5 have had it by the time they start kindergarten and typically have mild or no symptoms. However, in very young children, parechovirus can cause high fevers and serious illness — and can even be fatal.

“Newborns and infants under 6 months old — especially those under 3 months old — are at greatest risk of more severe illness,” says Dr. Jershonda Hartsfield, a board-certified pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

Thankfully, severe illness and death from the virus are very rare. Most children with mild infections tend to have cold- or flu-like symptoms and develop a fever and rash but recover after a few days. In infants younger than 3 months old, symptoms can be more dangerous because their immune system is still developing.

“Infants may present with high fever, signs of sepsis, meningitis or seizures,” Dr. Hartsfield says. “If your baby has a fever, rash, low appetite, and isn’t responding normally or is very lethargic, you should seek medical care right away.”

Parents shouldn’t panic about parechovirus
Parechovirus is spread from person to person like many other viruses — through respiratory droplets after a cough or sneeze, and through saliva and stool. According to the CDC, parechovirus can be contagious for one to three weeks with a respiratory infection, and up to six months if it’s a gastrointestinal infection.

With cases typically peaking every year in the summer and fall, parechovirus is a seasonal illness that isn’t new. Health experts say it’s possible the COVID-19 pandemic and prevention measures may have temporarily blocked exposure to the virus. The uptick in cases this year may be due to people socializing more, or that increased testing might give the appearance of a rise in cases.

Treating and preventing parechovirus
A parechovirus diagnosis can be helpful to inform treatment in severe cases. For mild illness, rest, drinking plenty of fluids and monitoring symptoms are recommended. If there are any worrying symptoms, speak with your child’s pediatrician.

There are no antiviral treatments or vaccines, so taking preventive steps is key. “Practice careful hand hygiene after diapering, toileting, and before eating or feeding,” Dr. Hartsfield recommends.

“It’s also best to avoid older children and adults who have symptoms of illness,” she says. “If any visitors you’re expecting are feeling unwell, ask them to stay home and reschedule. If a member of your household is sick, aim to keep them separated from your infant as much as possible.”

Parechovirus is not something that parents of young infants should panic about. However, it is good to be aware that this virus is circulating and know how to prevent it.

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