What is parechovirus? What Canadian parents need to know

·4 min read
Both Canada and the United States are seeing new cases of the parechovirus, a potentially life-threatening virus for babies. (Photo via Getty Images)
Both Canada and the United States are seeing new cases of the parechovirus, a potentially life-threatening virus for babies. (Photo via Getty Images)

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising parents and doctors to watch out for parechovirus, a potentially dangerous virus that commonly affects young children.

Last week, the CDC issued an alert saying the virus had been detected in multiple parts of the United States over the last few weeks, including an "unusually large" cluster of 23 newborns in Tennessee.

The illness has also been detected in some parts of Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHC) tells Yahoo Canada that four cases of parechovirus have been reported in the country this year, but it did not specify the dates of infection. However, the PHAC did say all four cases were detected in children under the age of one.

Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Toronto, says there is no reason for parents to be alarmed at this time, as this virus is common from the spring until the fall.

What is parechovirus?

Parechovirus is a group of viruses that can cause infections that range in severity, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The virus can be dangerous in newborns, especially in the first two weeks after they're born. It can also cause milder symptoms in older kids and adults.

There are four species of parechoviruses, with the PeV-A3 strain most linked with severe disease in newborns and infants, according to the CDC.

Still, this is not a new virus in Canada. Banerji says the current uptick in cases may be due to the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’re seeing an increase of viruses because after two years of isolation, children are starting to interact and families are starting to interact again,” she tells Yahoo Canada.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fever, upper respiratory tract infection and rash are common symptoms of parechovirus in children. (Photo via Getty Images)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fever, upper respiratory tract infection and rash are common symptoms of parechovirus in children. (Photo via Getty Images)

What are the signs and symptoms of parechovirus?

There are mild to severe symptoms of parechovirus.

The CDC says symptoms like upper respiratory tract infection, fever and rash are common in children between 6 months and 5-years-old, with “most children having been infected by the time they start kindergarten.”

But in infants younger than 3 months, the CDC says severe illnesses can happen, including sepsis-like illness, seizures and meningitis.

Banerji says red flags to watch out for are vomiting, signs of dehydration and if the child is not eating.

“If a child is lethargic, if they're breathing hard or their heart rate is very fast, anything like that, then they need to seek medical help,” Banerji explains.

The pediatric infectious disease specialist also notes children who are immunocompromised might be at higher risk of the virus.

According to the Cleveland clini, Parechovirus is contagious and can be spread through close contact as well as airborne respiratory particles after a cough or sneeze. It can also be spread through the fecal-oral route.

How is parechovirus treated?

There is no specific treatment for parechovirus, but Banerji says depending on the symptoms you may be able to manage them similar to how you would with other viral illnesses — with fluids, rest and medications like Advil or Tylenol.

If a newborn gets sick a doctor may inject an intravenous medication to boost a baby’s immune system. They could also prescribe an oral antiviral medication. In some cases, infants may also require hospitalization.

In an interview with USA Today, Dr. Claire Bocchini says newborns are more likely to experience “severe infections compared with other age groups because their immune system is developing.”

She also notes that in rare instances, the virus could cause damage to multiple organs in a person's body.

“It’s very rare,” the infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital adds. “Most children don’t have severe disease, but in a small number of especially young infants, it can be very life-threatening.”

What are preventative measures parents should be taking?

There is no vaccine to prevent parechovirus. However, good hygiene can go a long way in protection.

Banerji says the measures people have used over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic can also reduce a person's risk of spreading parechovirus.

“If you do some of the measures to protect yourself against COVID, you're going to also be protecting yourself against most of the viruses that spread through coughing,” Banerji says. “If you wash your hands, and if young children wash their hands or caregivers wash their hands, then that will go a long way in protection.”

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