Warning of potentially fatal and little recognised virus that has broken out among newborn babies in Queensland.
The Courier Mail reports there have already been 55 cases of parechovirus in the state this year, 90 per cent of them among children less than three months old. There were 172 cases of parechovirus recorded in Queensland last year.
It can cause mild respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms in babies but in newborn infants, can lead to serious complications such as hepatitis or encephalitis, and can be fatal.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Theo Sloots said the very young were in the “danger period” to contract parechovirus, which is highly contagious.
The virus broke out in Brisbane in September and Dr Sloots has since tracked it spreading through infants on the Gold Coast, Toowoomba and, last month, in Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg.
“It’s an important issue,” he said. “When children get sick they go to the GP who doesn’t recognise it as parechovirus. They just think it’s an infection. Awareness needs to be raised among GPs.”
“It’s in the kids under three months that it causes severe disease and in a considerable number of those, it involves the central nervous system and they go into intensive care,” Dr Sloots said.
The virus spreads person to person through respiratory droplets or faeces.
Parechovirus can cause no symptoms at all, but newborn children or young infants with parechovirus may develop: •a high temperature (fever)
•irritability, lethargy or off food
•diarrhoea or loose stools.
A more severe blood infection (sepsis) can occasionally occur where babies can become unwell very quickly. This requires management in hospital to monitor your child closely. Rarely, the virus can affect the lining of the brain, leading to more severe symptoms such as seizures or muscle jerks.
Treatment for parechovirus
There is no specific treatment for parechovirus. Fever in children under six months of age needs review by a doctor. If diarrhoea is present, offer the child plenty of fluids.
If there are any worrying symptoms or you remain concerned about anything, consult your doctor immediately.
Prevention of parechovirus
There is no vaccine available against parechovirus.
Good personal hygiene is essential to prevent the spread of parechovirus to others, both for those infected and their carers.
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