Story by: Joe Hall on July 15, 2022
Federal health officials are warning doctors and parents about parechovirus, a virus that’s spreading across the U.S., including Kentucky. While symptoms typically are mild in older kids, parechovirus in newborns can be life-threatening.
“In a typical year, we may see a couple of babies with parechovirus, but in the last few weeks, we have seen four or five cases in young children at Norton Children’s Hospital,” said Kristina K. Bryant, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “One of the most common symptoms is fever, and in some kids, that is the only symptom. Young infants may develop severe illness, including sepsis, seizures and meningitis. Older infants and toddlers may have only cold symptoms, and some kids have no symptoms at all.”
Like many other viruses, parechovirus can cause a rash. Young infants may have rash on their hands and feet. It is sometimes described as “mittens and booties” rash.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been receiving reports of parechovirus in newborns since May. The agency sent out a health alert, encouraging pediatricians to consider the virus when diagnosing infants presenting symptoms like fever, a “sepsis-like syndrome” or neurologic conditions such as seizures and meningitis.
Despite the alert, according to Dr. Bryant, there’s no need for parents to panic.
“This is not a new virus,” Dr. Bryant said. “The CDC has emphasized that most kids have experienced a parechovirus infection by the time they reach kindergarten. Most children with mild symptoms never get tested specifically for parechovirus.”
Since the most severe cases of parechovirus are in newborns and young children, especially those under 3 months old, parents can take the usual steps to protect their kids from viral illness. These steps include diligent hand-washing and minimizing contact with people who are sick.