The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a health advisory notifying health care providers that parechovirus is currently circulating in the U.S. Since May 2022, the organization has received reports from health care providers in “multiple states” of parechovirus infections in newborns and young babies.
The CDC is encouraging clinicians to consider parechovirus in “infants presenting with fever, sepsis-like syndrome, or neurologic illness (seizures, meningitis) without another known cause and to test for parechovirus in children with signs and symptoms” that may indicate an infection, according to the alert.
If you have a little one in your life, it’s understandable to have questions, but experts stress that awareness is key. Here’s what you need to know about parechovirus and why it’s getting more attention than usual right now.
What is parechovirus and what symptoms does it typically cause?
Parechovirus is a common childhood illness that can cause a wide range of symptoms, ranging from none at all to severe illness, the CDC says. There are four types of parechoviruses; PeV-A3—the one that’s currently circulating and causing concern—is the most linked with severe disease.
But the illness can become severe in children less than three months old. Complications can potentially include sepsis-like illness, which can present with a high fever, breathing irregularities, or confusion. Meningitis or meningoencephalitis is also a possibility, especially in infants younger than one month, which can lead to neurological symptoms like headache, neck stiffness, or seizures.
This virus isn’t limited to little ones, though. Anyone can contract parechovirus, Danelle Fisher MD, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, tells SELF. “For adults, it can just present as the common cold,” she says.
Do certain infants face a higher risk than others?
While premature and immunocompromised infants are considered high risk for most illnesses, Dr. Fisher says the risk for serious complications of parechovirus really boils down to age. “The little babies—especially those who are newborn and in the first three months of life when they have a blank immune system—can have symptoms that are more severe,” she says.
That doesn’t mean your baby is guaranteed to get really sick if they happen to contract parechovirus, though. “I personally have diagnosed four babies in the last month who did very well,” Dr. Michelow says.
That should offer some reassurance. Even though parents should be aware of PeV-A3, the CDC is just stressing caution because it’s the dominant form of parechovirus circulating right now, Dr. Michelow says. “There seems to be cycles where some strains are more common in certain years,” he says.
What parents should know about preventing parechovirus
Parechovirus spreads through respiratory droplets and fecal-oral droplets (so via poop particles that reach the mouth), the CDC says. After a person is infected, they can shed the virus for one to three weeks from their upper respiratory tract and up to six months from their digestive tract.
Because of that, practicing good hygiene, particularly hand hygiene, is important, Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF.
“COVID precautions will also help babies through this time period,” Dr. Fisher says, adding that “masking and keeping people who are ill or have any cold-like symptoms away from the baby” will be helpful. “It really is best to try to keep the baby away from people in those first months of life if they could be transmitting viruses. Don’t encourage a crush of visitors.”
If your baby develops signs of parechovirus, or you simply feel like something is not right, experts say you shouldn’t wait to check in with a doctor. “If your gut is telling you something is off with your baby, it’s incredibly important to reach out to your pediatrician,” Dr. Fisher says. She says doctors need to “trust mom’s and dad’s guts,” so you should feel empowered to speak up.
Recovery from parechovirus really depends on how sick your baby gets. “Most babies will recover from respiratory symptoms in two to three days and have the rash and fever go away in two to four days,” Dr. Michelow says. If your child develops more severe complications, he says recovery could take longer, which is why it’s crucial to seek out an expert opinion sooner rather than later if you can.
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