The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert in response to the growing numbers of parechovirus (PeV) cases among children and infants in the United States since May. Parechoviruses are extremely common pathogens that usually lead only to mild, if any, illness. The current surge of cases has been caused by a subvariant called A3, which tends to cause more serious disease, according to the CDC report.
William Schaffner, MD, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, says this CDC alert doesn’t necessitate panic. The announcement notifies healthcare providers and public health professionals about the increased cases of PeV so they can be on the lookout for it among their patients.
“It doesn’t have to get very bad for the CDC to let the medical community know what’s going on,” says Dr. Schaffner.
Because testing infrastructure for PeV has expanded in recent years, it’s possible that the increase in cases reflects more testing rather than more PeV, according to the alert.
What Is Parechovirus?
“Parechoviruses are a group of viruses that live in the intestinal tract, for the most part. They’re a seasonal virus more common in the summer and the fall,” says Schaffner. “Periodically, for reasons we don’t understand, one or more of them will come to the fore and be more prominent.”
Most kids have been infected with PeV at least once by the time they reach kindergarten, and the virus usually circulates in summer and fall. These infections often don’t have symptoms, though occasionally they produce illness similar to other common ailments like colds. PeV can cause fevers, headaches, scratchy throat, and loss of appetite. Occasionally, it can cause a flat rash. The infection is spread through close contact with other people through exposure to breath and bodily fluids, according to the agency Healthdirect Australia.
The only way to know if you or your child has PeV is to get diagnosed at the doctor’s office, although there is no specific treatment for it.
The groups most at risk for PeV are infants younger than three months and pregnant women, who if infected can pass the virus on to their baby and cause a neonatal infection. The CDC alert recommends that providers test for PeV if infants have a fever or present symptoms of serious infections such as sepsis, seizures, or meningitis.
Several infants have died from PeV this year, but the CDC isn’t sure if the number is higher than previous years because the agency doesn’t currently track the number of annual infections.
How Concerned Should I Be?
Schaffner says to keep a normal sense of alertness about your health.
“If you or your child gets a fever and if it doesn’t get better immediately, always contact your healthcare provider,” says Schaffner.
To minimize your risk of infection, stay away from people you know are sick and keep good personal hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, especially after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or coming in contact with bodily fluids.