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Herpes Virus Sends Many Kids to the Doctor

Common Cause of Fever and Fussiness
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Feb. 23, 2005 -- By the age of 2 most children have become infected with a form of herpes virus that frequently causes symptoms severe enough to require a doctor's attention.

Findings from one of the first studies to take a close look at human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) are at once reassuring and a cause for concern.

The study shows that a high percentage of children get sick enough to require a trip to the doctor when they are infected with the virus. But the rate of serious illness was much lower than has been reported in studies that included only children who got sick enough to end up in hospital emergency rooms.

Fever, fussiness, and runny nose were common symptoms among children with herpesvirus 6 infection in the newly reported study published in the Feb. 24 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

"This paints a kinder, gentler picture of HHV-6 than we have seen when we looked only at kids who ended up in emergency departments," says Ohio pediatrician Keith Powell, MD, who is a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "This shows that most kids have much milder illness."

First discovered in 1986, HHV-6 is one of eight known members of the human herpesvirus family. It does not cause cold sores, chicken pox, shingles, or genital infections, as other herpes viruses do. But it has been believed to be a major cause of childhood rash and has also been implicated as a cause of childhood seizures.

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