Over six weeks this spring, 23 children were admitted to a Tennessee hospital for treatment for parechovirus, a common virus that in rare cases can pose a deadly threat to infants, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was released.
Twenty-one of the children recovered without complications, but one was at risk for hearing loss and blood clots, the CDC said, while another child had persistent seizures and was believed to have severe developmental delay.
The children admitted to Nashville’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University ranged in age from 5 days to 3 months, and their illnesses were diagnosed from April 12 to May 24, the CDC said . The report described the infections as “an unusually large cluster”. At other times this year, six more cases were identified at the hospital, a “highest level of infections” compared to recent years, the report said.
Thirteen of the patients were girls and ten were boys, and all were previously healthy, the CDC said.
Not long after that cluster, the CDC alerted doctors this month that the type of parechovirus most commonly associated with serious illness has been circulating nationwide since May. It suggested parechovirus as a diagnosis to consider in babies with unexplained fevers or seizures.
Parechovirus is so common that most children are infected by kindergarten age, and its symptoms include a runny nose and sneezing – what we usually associate with a cold.
According to the CDC, infants younger than 3 months, and especially those less than a month old, are at higher risk of serious illnesses
There is no cure for parechovirus, but diagnoses can still dictate how doctors manage the disease.
Experts say it’s possible the spike in cases is due to increased socialization following a period of lockdown when people have not been exposed to common pathogens that may have weakened their immune systems. But it’s also possible that babies are simply being tested more frequently for parechoviruses.
“Our ‘eyes’ have gotten better, so we see more,” said Dr. Kenneth Alexander, chief of infectious diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital in Florida, told the New York Times this month.