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What Is Parechovirus? How To Know If Your Baby Has It? Signs, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Last week, a health alert issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned parents and paediatricians that a potentially dangerous pathogen is circulating in the United States. The past two months have seen several new cases of parechoviruses (PeV), a group of viruses that commonly infect children.

On Tuesday, the C.D.C. issued a special alert encouraging healthcare providers to test for parechovirus in children with unexplained fevers, seizures, loss of appetite, irritability, rashes, and sleepiness.

The alert doesn't say how many cases have been reported.

What Is Parechovirus?

Children are commonly infected with parechoviruses, similar to enteroviruses, such as the poliovirus. In recent cases, the disease is linked with a subtype known as A3, which is associated with more severe neurological problems, such as seizures and meningitis, in newborns and infants [1].

A parechovirus infection may cause mild, cold-like or no symptoms. However, there are instances in which it can result in serious illness and irreparable damage to brain tissue, particularly in infants.

In total, 18 human parechoviruses have been identified, including human parechovirus 1 (HPeV1, formerly echovirus 22) and human parechovirus 2 (formerly echovirus 23), and human parechovirus 3 to HPeV18.

What Causes Parechovirus Infection?

The parechovirus belong to the Picornaviridae family of viruses, responsible for various viral illnesses, including the common cold (rhinovirus) and crippling diseases such as polio.

Parechoviruses are common among children. In most cases, the illness resolves on its own within seven days. As a result, a patient is rarely tested for it unless he or she is severely ill [2].

What Are The Symptoms Of Parechovirus Infection?

In many ways, these symptoms are similar to those of a common cold, such as the following [3]:

  • A sore or scratchy throat
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • A viral rash

In the United States, parecho viral infections have been associated with severe illness in babies, including a case in which a baby's main symptom was a severely distended abdomen.

Most commonly, children between the ages of 6 months and five years are affected by respiratory tract infections, fevers, and rashes. Symptoms of infants younger than three months may include fever, sepsis-like syndrome, and neurologic illness, including seizures and meningitis [4].

How Are Parechoviruses Transmitted?

By coming into contact with faeces and through respiratory routes, a person who is infected can transmit the virus regardless of whether or not they are symptomatic.

There is a possibility that a person may be contagious for one to three weeks through the respiratory system and for as long as six months through the digestive system. However, even if an individual may be infectious for a long time, the illness may last only a few days [5].

Who Is At Risk For Parechovirus Infection?

According to the C.D.C. alert, babies under three months old, especially those under one month, are at a greater risk of developing severe illnesses. This is because their bodies have not developed immunity to the virus, which can spread through contaminated surfaces or the air [6].

What Are The Complications Of Parechovirus Infection?

Increasingly, infectious disease doctors across the country are concerned about a type of parechovirus known as PeV-A3, which is linked to severe disease in infants as young as six weeks of age [7].

The virus can cross the blood-brain barrier and cause inflammation of the meninges, the wrapping around the brain, or even the brain tissue itself.

How Is Parechovirus Treated? Can It Be Prevented?

Parechovirus does not have a treatment, but a diagnosis can change how doctors manage the illness and give families answers [8].

It is recommended that parents take the same precautions they would take if they had a newborn at home, such as washing their hands frequently and limiting their contact with anyone unwell.

After infection, the virus can remain in a person's stool for up to six months, making handwashing crucial to preventing the spread of the disease. After using the bathroom, changing a diaper, eating, and feeding an infant, wash your hands with water and soap for 20 seconds.

Parechovirus has been reported in India only three to four times from 2016 to 2021 [9][10].

On A Final Note...

Parents should not be alarmed by the C.D.C. alert, according to experts. The alert aims to ensure that paediatricians and other health care providers know that parechovirus is circulating and may consider it a possible diagnosis in certain sick children.

Story first published: Thursday, July 21, 2022, 16:12 [IST]
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