The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a new alert for parechovirus (PeV), a common childhood virus that can be deadly for infants under the age of 3 months. One death and several other cases had been reported at the time that the original Health Alert Network was issued on July 12, 2022. Since then, the CDC has found an “unusually large” outbreak of the virus in Tennessee.
According to a new report from the CDC, from April 12 through May 24 of this year, 23 previously healthy infants between the ages of 5 days and 3 months were admitted to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee to be treated for PeV. In severe cases of the infection, younger infants can develop “severe sepsis-like disease and central nervous system (CNS) infection.”
All of the infants in the CDC report developed swelling of the brain or brain-lining, which is known as parechovirus meningoencephalitis. Of the infants infected with the PeV-A3 strain that is circulating, 21 have made a full recovery. One appears to have lasting seizures and another seems to have hearing loss as a result of the infection.
According to the CDC alert, symptoms of PeV in infants include fever, fussiness, poor feeding, rash, respiratory distress, congestion, sleepiness, seizure, and an elevated cerebrospinal fluid white blood cell (WBC) count. As these symptoms are varied, and not all symptoms will present in every infant infected with PeV-A3, it is important for parents to speak up to a pediatrician if they suspect their infant has contracted the virus.
Kay DeLancy, who lost her baby boy Ronan to PeV at just 34 days old in June, previously told Scary Mommy what she wants other parents to know about the virus: “The advice I’d give to parents is listen to your gut — even if you do not have a medical degree, you know your baby better than anyone else. If you suspect something is wrong, make sure your concerns are heard.” Ronan did not have a fever, which is one of the factors DeLancy thinks played into her son’s misdiagnosis.
“If we keep telling parents or health professionals to look for a fever, this virus may continue to be under-diagnosed or may result in delays in treatment,” DeLancy said.
There is no treatment for parechovirus, no antiviral, and no vaccine. The best safety measure anyone can take is to prevent the spread of this virus, which typically circulates from summer to fall. Parechovirus spreads through fecal particles that end up in the mouth, saliva, and respiratory droplets. Frequent hand-washing, especially before and after handling infants who are at the highest risk of this virus, is imperative.
While the CDC is still unsure of what is causing an influx in the spread of this virus, they are doing everything they can to make sure parents and health care professionals are aware of its spread and how to prevent it.