Parechovirus: What you should know as cases are reported among U.S. infants

In recent weeks, another virus has caught the public's attention, as officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report cases of Parechovirus among newborns and young infants in several states.

Reports of Parechovirus cases come as the country is dealing with cases of Monkeypox, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that began in early 2020.

Here's what you should know about the Parechovirus.

What is the Parechovirus?

According to the CDC's website, Human Parechoviruses are common childhood pathogens that are "associated with various clinical manifestations, ranging from asymptomatic or mild symptoms to severe illness."

CDC officials say there are multiple types of the parechovirus that cause disease in humans, one of which, PeV-A3, is most often associated with severe disease.

Officials with Healthdirect Australia, a website that is supported by health officials on the federal and state levels in Australia, say Parechovirus is closely related to a group of virus known as enterovirus, which causes a lot of common childhood infections.

How many cases have been reported?

According to FOX News on Aug. 1, 23 infants were taken to the hospital in Tennessee between April 12 and May 24 as a result of the virus, citing a CDC report.

Cases have also been reported in Arizona. However, Dr. Wassim Ballan with Phoenix Children's Hospital says it is tough to know the full scale, because it is not an infection that is kept track of on the local level.

"It’s not a reportable disease, so even though individual physicians might be looking for it and seeing it, those numbers are not being put into a database to compare and know where we are in that spectrum of numbers," said Dr. Ballan. "At this point we’re starting to see some. Whether we’re at a peak of not, that is to be determined."

Jen Fifield talked about her experience with the virus.

"It just felt like there was something a little more wrong with him. So that was the scary part," said Fifield, referencing her seven-week-old son. "The doctor said that’s not that high of a fever when we called in, but I just kind of knew something else was going on."

Fifield's 7-week-old son was the first local case of the virus.

"We were just trying to make sure he was stable. That first 24 hours were really hard and tiring for all of us, especially him," said Fifield. "We don’t know where we got it but the doctor at Phoenix Children's said we were the first confirmed case, which is so strange and terrifying to hear because I’m home with my baby safe. We don’t go many places, so we don’t know how this came to us."

What are the symptoms?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the virus can affect anyone, from infants to adults.

"Most children under age 5 get the virus by the time they start kindergarten — often without knowing what caused their mild illness. Babies younger than six months old, and especially newborns, are most at risk of developing complications from the viral infection," read a portion of the website.

Officials with Cleveland Clinic also say for those under three months old, Parechovirus can make them very ill, and can cause life-threatening complications such as:

  • Seizures
  • Meningitis, an infection that targets the protective lining around a person's brain and spinal cord
  • Sepsis, a severe blood infection that can spread to other organs
  • Encephalitis, a serious condition that causes inflammation of the brain

Officials with Healthdirect say parents should look out for the following symptoms in babies and young children:

  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Floppiness
  • Seizures
  • A widespread rash

"If you’re noticing the young infant is being fussier than usual or sleeping more than usual, not eating well, high fever, those are the times you want to call your pediatrician and get some guidance from them on what the next step should be," said Dr. Ballan.

How does it spread?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the virus spreads by fecal-oral and respiratory routes.

"This means that it enters your body via microscopic particles that are spread through poor hand hygiene and contact with someone else’s cough or saliva, so household spread is common. It may also be spread to the fetus before birth," read a portion of the website.

Officials with Healthdirect say a person can catch the Parechovirus from objects and surfaces that are contaminated by a patient's sneeze, cough, saliva, or feces, such as cutlery, plates, and toilets.

Is this some kind of new virus?

Officials with the Cleveland Clinic say the Parechovirus is a common infection that is found around the globe.

"Because we don’t test for specific viruses when kids get common illnesses, it’s hard to know exactly how common PeV is. Studies suggest that Parechovirus is more common in the summer and fall months," read a portion of the website.

How can someone get diagnosed with Parechovirus?

Cleveland Clinic officials say a healthcare provider will look for signs of infection, and discuss any symptoms the person may have.

"In general, your provider will tell you that your child has a "virus" based on their symptoms — because many viruses cause similar symptoms," read a portion of the website.

In serious cases where a person is hospitalized, a physician would make a diagnosis after doing an exam and testing bodily fluids, such as blood, stool, respiratory material from the nose or the throat, or the fluid that surrounds a person's brain and spinal cord.

How is Parechovirus treated?

According to Cleveland Clinic officials, there is no definitive treatment available for Parechovirus, but newborns who fell ill with the Parechovirus could be treated with medication that boosts their immune system (immunoglobulins) or an antiviral medication called Pleconari.

"After treatment for parechovirus, it could take between three to 10 days until your baby feels better," a portion of the website reads "Depending on the severity of your baby’s symptoms, they may need to be in the hospital until their symptoms improve and their doctor verifies that they’re healthy enough to go home."

Is there a vaccine for the virus?

Officials with Healthdrect say there is no vaccine for the Parechovirus.

What should people do to avoid spreading the virus?

Cleveland Clinic officials say people can reduce their risk of spreading Parechovirus by:

  • Washing hands with soap and water often and for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the toilet
  • Covering nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • Using a hand sanitizer made from at least 60% alcohol
  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces or objects
  • Staying away from others who are sick

Healthdirect officials gave some additional advice on how to prevent the spread of Parechovirus, such as:

  • Not share eating utensils with people who are unwell
  • Stay home, and stay away from small babies and young children if you have cold, flu or gastro symptoms.

Anyone with concerns over a potential Parechovirus infection should seek proper medical advice from their primary care physician.