A common childhood virus called parechovirus, which can cause severe illness in infants younger than 3 months, is spreading in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a health alert issued Tuesday.
Since May, the agency has received reports from health providers in multiple states of newborns and young infants being infected with the virus, which tends to circulate in the summer and fall. The CDC is encouraging clinicians to consider the virus as a possible diagnosis in infants with fever, sepsis-like symptoms, or seizures and meningitis when no other cause is apparent.
A parechovirus infection can "cause a spectrum of disease in humans," from asymptomatic or mild symptoms to "severe illness," the CDC noted. It's common in childhood, with most kids having been infected by the time they start kindergarten. In children between 6 months and 5 years old, the virus usually causes upper respiratory tract infection, fever and rash.
But in infants less than 3 months, and especially for those under 1 month, it can lead to seizures, swelling of the brain and surrounding tissue, and sepsis-like illness, often requiring hospitalization. Sepsis is when the body's response to an infection damages the body and leads to poor organ function. Sepsis symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, sweating and extreme pain. Parechovirus infection can also lead to long-term neurodevelopmental issues, though it's rare.
Parechovirus spreads through fecal particles that end up in the mouth (the fecal-oral route), saliva and respiratory droplets. Shedding from the upper respiratory tract can last up to three months and in the gastrointestinal tract up to six months, per the CDC. Infected individuals who do not have any symptoms can also spread the virus.
There's no nationwide surveillance of parechovirus, so it's unclear if this year's rates are higher than those in previous years. If you're concerned that your child has been infected the parechovirus, contact your health provider.
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