What is Parechovirus?

Infectious Diseases

There’s a new infection in the news – parechovirus. While it’s not a new virus, recent reports of severe cases have garnered public attention.

In this post, Those Nerdy Girls are here to help you get the facts straight and learn how to protect yourself.

🦠 What is parechovirus? Parechovirus is a virus that is a part of the Picornavirus family, a large group of viruses that cause infection in humans. They are tiny RNA containing viruses. If this family gathered for a reunion, you might recognize some of the other attendees. The group also includes enteroviruses such as poliovirus, coxsackievirus, rhinovirus and echovirus, all of which are more than capable of causing sickness in humans:

🤒Coxsackievirus causes hand-foot-mouth disease, an illness in young children with fever and painful ulcers on – you guessed it! – hands, feet, and inside the mouth.

🤒Poliovirus is the source of polio infections which can cause weakness and paralysis. Most of us are vaccinated in early childhood against this one, although polio infections are making a comeback in areas where rates of routine vaccinations are low.

🤒Rhinovirus is one of the big sources of the common cold.

🤒Echovirus causes viral meningitis. Parechovirus causes similar symptoms and was first classified as a subtype of echovirus, but now has its own grouping.

All in all, this is a family reunion you’d want to RSVP “no thank you” to! 👎🏾

🦠 How does parechovirus spread? The virus spreads through oral contact with an infected person’s fecal or respiratory secretions. Infected people might shed virus for weeks after illness, and infection seems to occur 3-5 days after contact, although it’s a little hard to predict. We see higher rates of infection in the summer and fall.

🦠 What are the symptoms of parechovirus infection? Parechovirus infections are common, infecting most children by the age of 5. There are 19 subtypes of the virus. Often symptoms are nonexistent or mild, low grade fever and congestion. However, some variants, such as the A3 variant responsible for cases in the news lately, can cause more serious illness. A worrisome form of the virus is meningitis and encephalitis, an inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord which causes high fever, lethargy, seizures, poor feeding and vomiting. Doctors have also seen more serious cases with hepatitis, inflammation of the liver or pneumonia, infection in the lungs. Most serious illness occurs in infants less than 3 months of age.

🦠 How is parechovirus diagnosed? Many cases go undiagnosed because children exhibit only mild symptoms and don’t require medical evaluation. However, fever higher than 100.4 in an infant under 3 months of age is taken very seriously, and testing for sources of viral or bacterial infection is recommended. Sometimes this includes a lumbar puncture to test cerebrospinal fluid to find the cause of illness, including parechovirus. This virus can also be detected on a PCR nasal swab similar to how we test for Covid-19.

🦠 How is parechovirus treated? For mild illness, treatment includes symptom management with increased hydration, fever reducing medication and rest. If someone is really sick and hospitalized with meningitis or pneumonia, health care providers may use general antiviral medications in an attempt to help recovery. Because there is no specific treatment for this illness, severe infection can lead to organ failure and death, although it is very rare for this to happen.

🦠 How worried should I be, and how can I protect myself? Overall, your worry level for this one can stay low, for now. Parechovirus infections are very common and generally cause milder, self-limited disease. Serious infections are rare and so far seem limited to infants less than 3 months old and people who are severely immunocompromised. Pregnant women can transmit the virus to an unborn baby and should take extra precaution to avoid those who are ill. You can protect yourself with good hand hygiene – with this virus, soap and water are preferred to hand sanitizer, since the hardy viral particles might withstand the alcohol.

🍎 And remember, while there is no parechovirus vaccine, we are seeing rising numbers of other infections that we already have great vaccines available to prevent, like polio. If you have children and they are behind on their recommended CDC vaccination schedules, make a plan with your pediatrician to get them caught up ASAP.

Stay safe, stay well.

Love, Those Nerdy Girls


Cleveland Clinic: Human Parechovirus

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