It may feel like viruses are in the news a lot these days. And perhaps you just heard about parechovirus (puh-REH-ko-veye-rus). Well, it turns out that parechovirus isn’t new!
What Is Parechovirus?
Parechovirus is a virus that’s been around for many years. Parechovirus infection is pretty common, especially in kids. Did you know that most kids get a parechovirus infection by the time they turn five years old? You probably weren’t even aware if your child has had a parechovirus infection. That’s because kids usually have no symptoms or just mild ones.
Parechovirus can spread when someone comes in contact with infected poop or infected droplets of saliva or mucus that come out in a cough or sneeze. It can also spread when someone touches a contaminated surface or object.
Symptoms of parechovirus infection are like symptoms that come with other cold viruses, such as a sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash. And like with most respiratory viruses, your child will feel better by resting, drinking lots of fluids, and taking acetaminophen. There’s no treatment for parechovirus infection, but symptoms usually clear up on their own in a few days. (Remember, antibiotics won’t help because they don’t treat viruses — antibiotics only treat bacteria.)
In rare cases, very young infants can get very ill from a parechovirus infection.
What Should Parents Watch for?
Parechovirus infection is not usually a big deal in older kids. But babies younger than three months, whose immune systems are still developing, can become quite ill because it is harder for them to fight the infection.
If your newborn or infant develops any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician:
- temperature of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or a temperature below 97°F (36.1°C)
- poor feeding, especially if the baby appears dehydrated (signs include drowsiness, a dry or sticky mouth, sunken eyes or soft spot on the head, no wet diaper in 6–8 hours, crying with little or no tears)
- repeated vomiting or diarrhea
- fussiness, irritability, or crying that can’t be calmed down
- trouble breathing
- very pale skin
- extreme drowsiness
You know your child best. If your child seems very ill, call your doctor right away.
How Can I Keep Germs at Bay?
Parechovirus spreads easily from person to person. When a person with parechovirus touches a surface that you touch or sneezes near you, you can catch it.
To keep your family safe from parechovirus and other germs, handwashing is your best line of defense. Everyone in the family should wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. It’s essential to wash hands at these times:
- before eating and cooking
- after using the bathroom or changing a diaper
- before and after being with people who are sick
- after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
Remind your family to do all the same things they do to avoid catching a cold or the flu:
- stay away from people who are sick, and keep ill children at home
- if you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand
- try not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth
- wipe down surfaces that get touched often, like tables, countertops, and toys
Kenneth Alexander, MD, PhD, is Division Chief, Infectious Diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida.