Parechovirus is a highly common childhood virus that typically presents with mild symptoms, similar to the common cold. In fact, nearly all kids will have had the virus before they enter kindergarten. However, in babies under 3 months of age, parechovirus can result in high fevers and can be serious—even fatal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued an advisory recommending clinicians watch for infants with symptoms of parechovirus infection after multiple children have fallen ill across several states, including 23 hospitalized in Tennessee between April and May.
Anytime your baby gets a fever warrants a call to your pediatrician, but otherwise, there’s no real cause for alarm just yet—we don’t have data on whether there’s a true spike in parechovirus cases at this point, and it’s important to know that standard precautions taken for newborns like limiting visitors and reducing exposure to public places are protective against parechovirus, as they are against other illnesses.
Here’s what else you need to know about parechovirus.
1. Parechovirus is a type of enterovirus
Enteroviruses, like hand, foot and mouth disease, are common in childhood and usually cause mild illness. There’s no at-home rapid test for parechovirus like there is for Covid, but specialized lab testing is available for severe cases.
2. Parechovirus tends to circulate more in the summer and fall
The CDC also says the virus tends to peak every other year. Cases started appearing in May, but it’s unclear if the U.S. is seeing a spike in the number of cases, or if increased availability of testing for the virus has led to better diagnosis.
3. The parechovirus strain circulating now (PeV-A3) is associated with more severe illness
But keep in mind that most babies who are hospitalized with parechovirus recover within a few days, notes Dr. Ian Michelow, Division Head of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Connecticut Children’s, in a blog post. “Rarely are cases fatal, but we can never be too careful.”
4. Symptoms of parechovirus in newborns can present as lack of interest in feeding, rash and fever—though fever is not always present
Any instance of fever in your newborn is a reason to seek medical treatment, especially as this strain of parechovirus is associated with the onset of sepsis-like symptoms and can cause brain swelling or seizures in babies. Dr. Michelow notes that parents should watch out for the following in their infants:
- Poor feeding or vomiting, or eating very little
- A red rash that spreads
- High fever, especially if persistent, but fever may not always be present
- Floppiness or abnormal movements, a possible sign of a seizure
- Extreme irritability and difficulty to console
5. Upper respiratory infection, fever and rash are the typical symptoms for kids between 6 months and 5 years
Most kids will have been infected by the time they turn 5, and treatment for mild cases mainly consists of symptom management to support the body’s immune system. Antibiotics won’t help for a viral infection.
6. The virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets, saliva and hands or objects that have come into contact with feces
Consistent handwashing and sanitizing toys and surfaces can help limit transmission, as can limiting exposure to public places for newborns under 3 months.
7. There’s no vaccine or cure for parechovirus
But a diagnosis can be helpful to inform treatment in severe cases. For mild illness, reach out to your pediatrician and keep up with rest, hydration and monitoring symptoms like fever.
8. The virus can shed for 1 to 3 weeks from the respiratory tract
It can shed for up to 6 months from the gastrointestinal tract. Washing hands with soap and water after feeding, diapering and toileting older children for months after infection is helpful to reduce the spread.
9. Keep your regular newborn visiting rules in place
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.