Parechovirus is a virus found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of humans. Some people carry this around and have no symptoms while others, especially infants, can become unwell with a mild illness but in more severe cases the brain can become inflamed (known as meningitis), they become weak and lose consciousness. When someone is sick with parechovirus they can spread the virus through infected respiratory secretions, saliva and faeces.
Who is at an increased risk of getting parechovirus?
Anyone can get infected with parechovirus. However, babies under three months of age are most likely to become unwell quickly and often require hospitalisation.
Symptoms of parechovirus
Parechovirus may cause a mild diarrheal illness or respiratory infection. 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 three months are the most likely to develop severe disease. Babies can become unwell very quickly, but most recover after a few days with supportive treatment such as help with feeding.
Some common symptoms are:
- Fever > 38.5C
- Meningitis symptoms (headache, unable to tolerate bright lights, irritability)
- Sepsis like syndrome (very unwell, high temperature)
- Respiratory symptoms (working hard to breathe, short, shallow breaths)
- Small infants will be also be lethargic and may have trouble feeding.
How is parechovirus spread?
Parechovirus is usually spread from person to person through contact with respiratory droplets (from sneezing or coughing), saliva or faeces from an infected person. It is important if you or your child are unwell with respiratory symptoms or gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhoea or vomiting) you must stay away from infants especially those under three months.
It is not yet known how long it takes from exposure to this germ for the disease to develop.
How is parechovirus diagnosed?
If parechovirus is suspected, tests will be carried out to check if your child has the virus. These include:
- Faecal (stool) sample
- CSF sample – this is taken by a procedure called a lumbar puncture (CSF is the fluid that surrounds the brain – by testing this you can detect if someone is infected with certain diseases).
How is parechovirus treated?
There is no specific treatment for parechovirus. Some infants may require a hospital admission if they are very unwell.
Is there a vaccination for parechovirus?
There is no vaccine to protect you from parechovirus infection.
Good hygiene is the best protection: wash hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before eating, after wiping noses, and after changing nappies or soiled clothing.
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.
When should you clean your hands?
You and your child should always clean hands:
- Before handling anything that goes in your mouth or their mouth
- Before preparing or eating food or drinks
- After going to the toilet
- After using a tissue or handkerchief
- After handling rubbish
- After handling dirty washing
- After coming into contact with an affected area (avoid touching wherever possible).
It is also important that your health care workers clean their hands before and after providing care for your child. If you don’t see them cleaning their hands it’s OK to ask: “have you cleaned your hands?”
What other precautions are taken?
Special precautions to minimise risk of spreading parechovirus to other children in the hospital will be used, such as placing your child in a single room and using personal protective equipment such as gloves, gowns and mask while caring for your child. This is known as ‘transmission- based precautions’. Your child will also be asked to stay in their room, unless they are receiving tests and treatment. However, they can receive visitors from the school and entertainment services if they are not able to leave their room.
Our staff will also advise if it OK for your child to go for a walk outside the hospital.
If my child has parechovirus can they have visitors?
Yes, however, close family contacts may be at risk of having parechovirus, and this may need to be assessed by the hospital’s infection management and prevention service to see if there should be any visiting restrictions. We also recommend that no infants under six months visit your child.
What happens when you visit the outpatients department or return to the hospital after discharge?
If you have to return for an outpatient appointment, no precautions are required, you would be able to sit in the waiting room with the other families.
Do I have to tell the school, pre-school / kindergarten, other parents, sports groups or camps?
No. However, if your child has a parechovirus infection, you should keep them away from school or child care until they have been symptom free for 48 hours.
Infection Management and Prevention Service
Queensland Children’s Hospital
501 Stanley Street, South Brisbane 4101
t: 07 3068 4145 (nurses)
t: 07 3068 1558 (administration)
t: 07 3068 1111 (general enquiries)
In an emergency, always call 000.
If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
New South Wales Health (2014). Human Parechovirus fact sheet
Red Book of Infectious Diseases. (2015). Summaries of Infectious Diseases, Parechovirus