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.
This may sound unsettling, but it’s important to know that this is a “common virus” that typically spreads during the summer and fall, Ian C. Michelow, MD, division head of pediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Connecticut Children’s Specialty Group, tells SELF. “It’s become newsworthy because there have been a lot of cases recently and some severe outcomes in some of these babies.”
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.
Symptoms of parechovirus in infants and children between the ages of six months and five years can include fever, a skin rash, nausea or digestive discomfort, and symptoms associated with an upper respiratory tract infection like a sore throat and fatigue.
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.
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