• The CDC has received reports from healthcare providers in multiple states of parechovirus (PeV) infections in newborns and young infants.
  • Parechoviruses are common childhood pathogens.
  • There are four species of these viruses, of which only PeV-A is known to cause disease in people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert for physicians this month about a potentially dangerous virus circulating in the country, with young children most at risk.

The CDC said it has received reports from healthcare providers in multiple states of parechovirus (PeV) infections in newborns and young infants.

It is encouraging clinicians to test for this virus in children with signs and symptoms that might indicate a parechovirus infection.

All of the cases to date have been caused by the PeV-A3 strain, which is the type most often associated with severe disease, the CDC said.

The agency did not indicate in which states the cases have occurred. A Connecticut newborn died of a parechovirus infection shortly before the CDC issued its health alert, reported CT Insider.

Here’s what you should know about this virus.

Parechoviruses are common childhood pathogens. There are four species of these viruses, of which only PeV-A is known to cause disease in people.

PeV-A has multiple strains, with PeV-A3 most commonly associated with severe disease in newborns and infants, the CDC said.

This virus is not new to the United States. But surveillance is currently limited, the agency said, so it’s not clear how the number of cases this year compares to previous seasons.

Dr. Federico Laham, the medical director for Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children Infectious Diseases & Immunology, said he has recently seen a few cases of parechovirus in young children, but not a dramatic increase. However, he said some colleagues in the area have noticed a “small uptick” in cases.

Dr. Andrea Berry, an infectious disease pediatrician at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, said parechoviruses can cause a range of symptoms from asymptomatic or mild to severe illness.

However, “severe disease is rare,” said Berry, who is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

In children between 6 months and 5 years, parechoviruses commonly cause symptoms such as upper respiratory tract infection, fever and rash, the CDC said.

However, in infants younger than 3 months, severe illness can occur, including sepsis-like illness or neurologic illness such as seizures or meningitis.

Meningitis is inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, according to the CDC, which can cause symptoms such as headache, fever and a stiff neck.

The CDC said people who have a parechovirus can transmit the virus through feces or respiratory droplets, even if they don’t have symptoms.

People can shed the virus from the upper respiratory tract for 1 to 3 weeks after infection, and from the gastrointestinal tract for up to 6 months after infection, the agency said.

Some research has found that PeV-A tends to circulate in the summer and fall, the CDC said. However, as with other viruses, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the traditional seasonal patterns.

“Coming out of COVID, all the seasonalities [of these viruses] are upside down,” said Laham. “It might take one or two years before everything goes back to where it was before.”

Berry said in spite of the recent slight increase in parechovirus cases, there is nothing parents need to do other than what is typically recommended for preventing infections.

“In general, kids who are sick should not play with other kids, especially if they have a fever,” she said.

However, “because severe disease [with parechovirus infection] is so rare, I do not think we should take additional precautions to prevent parechovirus transmission at this time,” she added.

Laham agreed: “This is a ubiquitous virus, it’s everywhere. It’s not like you can really prepare for this.”

“In reality, there’s nothing parents need to do,” he added, pointing out that the CDC health alert was mainly to raise awareness of this virus among clinicians.

Because many viruses can cause similar symptoms, Laham said parents will not know if their child is infected with parechovirus.

However, he encourages parents to bring their infant to a doctor if they have any concerning symptoms, such as fever, seizure, rash, acting lethargic or not eating well.

Berry said if an infant younger than 3 months old — and especially younger than 1 month of age — has a fever, they should be seen as soon as possible by a health care provider.

“Infants are not able to speak to us and tell us their symptoms. Sometimes, they just have a fever and a mild illness,” she said. “Other times, there could be a more serious infection, such as meningitis, that requires hospitalization and supportive care.”

For older children with fever, cough, difficulty breathing, changes in eating or drinking, fussiness or extreme sleepiness, Berry recommends that parents call their primary care provider before taking their child into the office.

This can be “very helpful for getting advice on when to wait and when to have the child seen,” she said.

Overall, though, “these are the same recommendations I would give regardless of whether there are increased numbers of parechovirus cases,” she said.

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