On Tuesday, July 19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning to medical professionals about parechovirus, a common virus that goes around in summer and fall and infects most children by the time they start kindergarten.

Understandably, parents are concerned—especially because there have been cases reported in Connecticut. Dr. Ian Michelow, Division Head of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Connecticut Children’s, answers the most common questions parents have right now.

Want more articles like this from pediatric experts you trust?

Sign up for our newsletter.

What is parechovirus?

Parechovirus is part of a group of common viruses known as enteroviruses. Enteroviruses usually cause mild illnesses. For example, most parents have become familiar with hand, foot and mouth disease. Other viruses in the enterovirus family can cause fevers, conjunctivitis (eye infections), sepsis and neurological infections.

How do you get parechovirus?

Like most viruses, parechovirus and other enteroviruses are spread through respiratory droplets, saliva, and hands or objects contaminated by feces.

Why can parechovirus be so dangerous for infants and newborns?

For most children who are infected, parechovirus symptoms are mild and cannot easily be differentiated from other viral infections. The challenge right now is the CDC has identified more cases of parechovirus type 3 (PeV-A3) which causes more severe symptoms in young infants, especially those under 3 months of age. There is no simple test for this virus, but if a child has more severe disease and needs to be hospitalized, specialized tests are available. 

So even though parechovirus is a common seasonal illness, PeV-A3 is being recognized as causing more severe disease this year. That’s why healthcare professionals everywhere are staying on the lookout and are prepared to take any precautions necessary.

If I have an infant or newborn, what should I watch out for?

Serious cases of parechovirus can cause sepsis-like infections in infants. It can also affect the central nervous system and cause encephalitis which can lead to brain swelling and seizures. This is because the immune system’s inflammatory reaction to the infection goes into overdrive trying to fight the virus—which becomes damaging to the body.

Because infants cannot communicate what’s going on when they have an infection like parechovirus, parents and caregivers should look out for:

  • Poor feeding or vomiting, or eating very little
  • Spreading red rash
  • High fever, especially if persistent.
    • A fever may not always be present.
  • Floppiness or abnormal movements, a possible sign of a seizure
  • Extreme irritability and difficulty to console despite efforts

Please note that most babies who are hospitalized with parechovirus recover within a few days. Rarely are cases fatal, but we can never be too careful.

Mother snuggles her sick child

Is there an anti-viral treatment or vaccine for parechovirus?

Not at the moment. The best treatment is supportive care, ensuring good hydration, providing comfort and monitoring symptoms. There are steps we can take to prevent this infection. Jump to the last question for more on that.

Is there an antibody test for parechovirus, similar to COVID-19?

Not at this point.

Will antibiotics work if my child is infected?

Unfortunately, no. Antibiotics will not protect against or “cure” any viral infection. Antibiotics should be prescribed for bacterial infections only and very sparingly so your child doesn’t develop resistance against antibiotics for when they truly need them. As always, speak with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.

First, COVID. Then, reverse flu and RSV season. Now, parechovirus. Why is this happening?

Parechovirus is a summer and fall virus, so the timing of this virus is not unexpected. But we blame the rollercoaster that is COVID-19 for tampering with the typical seasonal pattern of other common viral illnesses. Many winter viruses like influenza and RSV have been circulating in higher numbers out of season.

What can we do to protect ourselves from or fight against parechovirus?

We’ve learned a lot since spring of 2020 when Connecticut saw its very first cases of COVID-19. Not only have we built resilience and strength, but we’ve taught ourselves and our kids how to practice diligent hand hygiene, proper mask-wearing, social distancing and other protective measures. In other words, we’re equipped to protect ourselves. Let’s always have this toolbox handy.

Important: If you’re bringing a newborn home, speak with your pediatrician about any extra precautions to take, especially if you have daycare- or school-aged children. Illnesses aside, it’s best to keep newborns extra protected and distanced from anyone who has any type of infection.

Learn more about parechovirus: