The virus which has hospitalised more than 100 Australian babies since 2013 could cause developmental problems and brain damage.
Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) president, Professor Cheryle Jones, says Australia experienced a “very large” outbreak of the parechovirus in late 2013 and early 2014, mainly in Sydney, and a “mild resurgence” at the end of last year in NSW and Queensland.
“In that outbreak in 2013, we had over 100 babies admitted in NSW alone. They were the severe cases, we don’t know how many mild cases there are and we don’t know how many were affected in the 2015 outbreak,” Prof Jones told news.com.au.
“The babies affected had a high fever, a rash and were often irritable and were admitted to hospital. The children we studied who had brain infections also had the virus in their spinal fluid,” she said.
It’s spread from person to person by direct contact respiratory droplets, saliva or faeces from an infected person. There is no vaccine.
“We need to do a big study of these children once they’re aged three to five, to really understand the long-term consequences and future research into ways to prevent the infection,” she said.
According to NSW Health, good hygiene is the best protection against the virus.
“Wash hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before eating, after wiping noses, and after changing nappies or soiled clothing,” the department advises in a parechovirus fact sheet.
“Ensure the mouth and nose are covered when coughing and sneezing. Wipe the nose and mouth with tissues, dispose of used tissues and then wash your hands.
“People who are unwell with colds, flu-like illness or gastro illness should stay away from small babies. If you are caring for a small baby and are unwell, wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand rub before touching or feeding the baby.”
Human parechoviruses usually causes mild respiratory or gastrointestinal illness. Some strains can cause more severe illness, particularly in young children. Good hygiene is vital to protect against parechoviruses.
Infection with some strains can, rarely, lead to more severe blood infection (sepsis) and neurological infection (meningitis or encephalitis), particularly among young children.
Children under 3 months of age are most likely to develop severe disease – and babies can become unwell very quickly – but most recover after a few days with supportive treatment.
There is no vaccine to protect you from parechovirus infection.
There is no specific treatment for parechovirus; treatment is supportive only.
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