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CDC warns of potentially deadly virus in infants

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July 15, 2022 — The potentially deadly parechovirus is now circulating in multiple states, causing fever, seizures and sepsis-like symptoms, including confusion and extreme pain, according to the CDC.

Human parechoviruses are common in children, and most are infected before they enter kindergarten, the CDC said. Between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, symptoms include an upper respiratory tract infection, fever, and rash.

But infants under 3 months of age can have more serious and potentially fatal infections. They can get “sepsis-like illness, seizures, and meningitis or meningoencephalitis, especially in infants under 1 month of age,” according to the CDC. At least one newborn baby has reportedly died from the infection.

Parechovirus, like other common germs, can spread through feces that is later ingested — probably due to poor hand washing — and through droplets released into the air by coughing or sneezing. It can be transmitted by people with and without symptoms of the infection.

The microbe can reproduce in the upper respiratory tract for 1 to 3 weeks and in the gastrointestinal tract for up to 6 months, the CDC said.

Kristina Angel Bryant, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville Hospital, says parechoviruses often cause rashes on the hands and feet, which some experts refer to as “mitts and booties.”

The CDC is urging doctors to test for parechovirus if they recognize these symptoms in infants if there is no other explanation for what could be troubling them.

There is no specific treatment for parechovirus. And because there’s no standard testing system, experts aren’t sure whether parechovirus cases will be higher in 2022 than in previous years.

The message to parents, Bryant says, is: don’t panic. “This is not a new virus.”

“One of the most common symptoms is a fever, and in some kids that’s the only symptom,” she says. “Older babies and toddlers may only have cold symptoms, and some children may have no symptoms at all.”

Parents can take the usual steps to protect their child from the viral illness, including diligent hand washing and less contact with people who are sick, Bryant says.

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