The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert for parechovirus on July 12, not long after a month-old Hamden infant died from the little-known disease. One medical expert is warning that this virus may be more common than we think and often goes undiagnosed.
Ronan DeLancy was only 10 days old when his parents noticed he was fussy, appeared tired, stopped feeding and had a rash. At a visit with their pediatrician, the DeLancys were told it was most likely colic – intense crying in an otherwise healthy infant. Still concerned, the DeLancys brought Ronan to the hospital. His oxygen levels dropped rapidly and he began to have seizures. An MRI showed brain damage and testing revealed that he had parechovirus.
Ronan died at just 34 days old.
What is parechovirus?
Human parechovirus causes gastrointestinal and respiratory disease, generally in infants and young children.
Children with this virus may present with no symptoms, mild symptoms or sometimes, severe illness. When symptoms do appear, it will generally be two to three days after exposure and they may include:
- Not eating.
- Extreme tiredness.
In rare cases, parechovirus can progress to sepsis, meningitis and seizures. This can result in long-term motor and neurologic deficits, including weakness and paralysis in the arms and legs.
Infants less than three months old are at the highest risk of severe illness.
How is parechovirus spread?
Parechovirus is spread through oral or inhaled particles. Infants and young children who frequently place their hands and objects in their mouths can easily spread the disease.
Should you be worried about parechovirus?
“We have always regarded them in the medical profession as viruses that cause a triad of symptoms: rash, fever and irritability, but children usually recover,” said Andrew Wong, MD, a primary care provider with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Westport. “Over the last five years, we’ve begun to realize that through mutations and more virulent subtypes, these viruses, particularly parechovirus, can be fatal. If not fatal, it can cause lifelong debilities such as neuromuscular weakness and developmental delays.”
Dr. Wong is warning parents, especially those with newborns and infants less than three months, to be aware of the symptoms of the virus as it is not an illness that is routinely tested for like the flu or COVID-19.
“If your baby has symptoms of fever, rash or irritability, request that a parechovirus and enterovirus test be done,” he said. “We don’t know how prevalent this virus is because we are not testing for it.”
What treatments are there for parechovirus?
Current treatment for parechovirus is supportive only. There are currently no FDA approved anti-viral medications or vaccinations that treat or prevent the disease.
The DeLancy family hopes that by spreading awareness, the CDC will prioritize the development of effective treatments for parechovirus.