Parechovirus advisory a reminder of importance of babies’ vulnerability during first few months

July 22, 2022
Baby sleeping covered by white wrap lying on white sheet.
Babies 3 months and under can be especially vulnerable to illness because the immunity they got from their mothers is waning and their own immune systems aren't robust yet. iStock

Doctors at MUSC Children’s Health are keeping an eye out for a virus that was the subject of a recent health advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency warned that parechovirus is circulating, making some babies seriously ill.

“If babies have fever or are not eating or are excessively sleepy, they need to be seen,” said Elizabeth Mack, M.D., division chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine.

Parechovirus, also known as PeV, can cause a range of symptoms. It’s so common that almost everyone has had it before they start kindergarten. Some will get such a mild case that they won’t even know they were infected. But others have moderate symptoms, and some get really sick.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack 
Dr. Elizabeth Mack

Babies can be especially vulnerable, Mack said, because the immunity they get from their mothers wanes before they develop their own robust immune systems. “I typically tell my friends and my patients that during the first three months they need extra protection. If grandparents are coming to help with baby, that’s totally understandable. But the whole neighborhood doesn’t need to come. You might wait until three or four months of age before bringing a baby around a lot of people.”

While parechovirus in children 6 months and up may cause an upper respiratory tract infection, fever and/or a rash, younger babies run the risk of a sepsis-like illness, seizures and meningitis, according to the CDC.

But a parechovirus infection isn’t always that obvious, Mack said. “Oftentimes, babies don't really exhibit much in the way of classic symptoms of a particular illness. A toddler may have a rash or a runny nose, or what have you. But a baby just may look bad, and may have trouble breathing. We'll look at the blood, we'll look at the urine and we'll look at the spinal fluid to figure out what’s wrong.”

No cases of parechovirus have turned up at MUSC Children’s Health since the CDC advisory, but Mack said doctors will test for it when it looks like a possible culprit for a baby’s illness. “There was a surge of these cases, nationally, beginning in May. I'm sure it will, like so many things, come to our region.”

It if does, Mack said precautions are pretty basic. “It's spread just like so many of our other viruses through contact with respiratory droplets, saliva, or feces from an infected person. So stay away from sick folks and washing your hands, particularly before you touch a baby. Keep newborn babies in a safe family bubble.”

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