US health authorities have voiced this week their concern over the surge of an infection which can seriously affect infants and is caused by the little-known parechovirus. One child has already died of this ailment, it was reported.
The malady causes seizures, meningitis, and other serious illnesses in children under 3 months of age, it was explained.
Since May, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found an increase in cases, in response to which it sent out a Health Alert advisory to physicians and public health facilities.
There is still no special treatment for this virus, which can be transmitted by respiratory or fecal routes. The exact incubation period is also unknown.
At any rate, it is not a new disease, according to the U.S. CDC. Physicians have been advised to isolate detected cases so that it does not spread to other infants.
Since May, the agency has received reports from healthcare providers in multiple states of newborns and young infants being infected with the virus, which tends to circulate in the summer and fall.
The CDC is encouraging General Practitioners to consider the virus as a possible diagnosis in infants with fever, sepsis-like symptoms, seizures, and meningitis when no other cause is apparent.
A parechovirus infection can cause a spectrum of disease in humans, from asymptomatic or mild symptoms to severe illness, the CDC noted. It's common in childhood, with most kids having been infected by the time they start kindergarten. In children between 6 months and 5 years old, the virus usually causes upper respiratory tract infection, fever, and rash.
But in infants less than 3 months, and especially for those under 1 month, it can lead to seizures, swelling of the brain and surrounding tissue, and sepsis-like illness, often requiring hospitalization.
Sepsis is when the body's response to an infection damages the body and leads to poor organ function. Sepsis symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, sweating, and extreme pain. In some rare cases, parechovirus infection can lead to lasting neurodevelopmental conditions.
Parechovirus spreads through fecal particles that end up in the mouth (the fecal-oral route), saliva, and respiratory droplets. Shedding from the upper respiratory tract can last up to three months and in the gastrointestinal tract up to six months, per the CDC. Infected individuals who do not have any symptoms can also spread the virus.
Parechovirus has caused at least one infant death and has cropped up in multiple states since May, according to the CDC advisory. The child was only 34 days old.