This year, 29 infants have been admitted to the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with human parechovirus (PeV) meningoencephalitis. The illness is caused by an infection with perechovirus, an RNA virus that is in the Picornaviridae family. That contrasts with a batch infections from 2018, in which 19 cases were detected. Parechovirus infections are typically mild in children, but they can cause severe illness in infants. The illness may cause a loss of appetite, fever, seizures, and meningitis, a type of inflammation that affects tissues that surround the spinal cord and brain. Infants that recover from parechovirus may also have developmental issues later.
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned clinicians to be on the look out for the illness. "Parechovirus is circulating in our population and will be missed if hospitals don't use a test that looks for this virus," said study author Romney Humphries, director of laboratory medicine at Vanderbilt.
This uptick might be related to a resumption of more typical day to day activities after several years of reduced interactions because of the pandemic; more kids are back at school and daycare, Humphries noted.
Sneezing and coughing can spread the virus, which can also be found in stool and saliva.
Most children who were infected this year have fully recovered without any complications. One patient might have hearing loss, and another experienced seizures and potentially, some developmental delays.
While there is not a treatment specifically for this virus, the symptoms can usually be managed. Reducing fever and keeping patients hydrated has been helpful, and there is no need for people to panic, added Humphries. Infectious disease experts agree.
"This is a typical infection of childhood and parents shouldn't be worried, but if their newborn displays fever, fussiness, or isn't eating, they should check in with their doctor," Humphries said.
"This virus is still in circulation, and we are seeing new cases every week and are seeing a higher number of these cases than is typical," said Dr. Cristina Tomatis Souverbielle, an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Standard prevention measures, like hand washing, and wearing a mask if you feel ill, can prevent the spread of this disease and other infectious illnesses.
Rates of parechovirus usually decline around September or October, Tomatis Souverbielle said. It's not unusual to see surges every few years.
The virus unfortunately has to be diagnosed with a spinal tap, in which a bit of cerebrospinal fluid is taken for examination. However, this test can be used to diagnose other illnesses too. It may also be that more cases are being diagnosed simply because of this test. "Parechovirus is now included in this panel, but it wasn't five years ago, so that could also explain the uptick," DeBiasi added.