The potentially fatal parechovirus is now circulating in multiple states, causing fevers, seizures, and sepsis-like symptoms, including confusion and extreme pain, according to the CDC.
Human parechoviruses are common in children and most have been infected before they start kindergarten, the CDC said. Between 6 months and 5 years of age, symptoms include an upper respiratory tract infection, fever, and rash.
But infants younger than 3 months may have more serious, and possibly fatal, infections. They may get “sepsis-like illness, seizures, and meningitis or meningoencephalitis, particularly in infants younger than 1 month,” the CDC said. At least one newborn has reportedly died from the infection.
Parechovirus can spread like other common germs, from feces that are later ingested – likely due to poor handwashing – and through droplets sent airborne by coughing or sneezing. It can be transmitted by people both with and without symptoms of the infection.
The microbe can reproduce for 1-3 weeks in the upper respiratory tract and up to 6 months in the gastrointestinal tract, 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 “mittens 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 might be distressing them.
There is no specific treatment for parechovirus. And with no standard testing system in place, experts are unsure if the number of parechovirus cases is higher in 2022 than in previous years.
The message for parents, Dr. Bryant says, is: Don’t panic. “This is not a new virus.”
“One of the most common symptoms is fever, and in some kids, that is the only symptom,” she says. “Older infants and toddlers may have only cold symptoms, and some kids have no symptoms at all.”
Parents can take the usual steps to protect their child from the viral illness, including diligent handwashing and having less contact with people who are sick, Dr. Bryant says.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.