Parechovirus: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 14, 2022
4 min read

Parechovirus (PeV) is a virus that usually causes no symptoms or mild illness. But sometimes, especially in young children, it leads to serious problems like brain infection (meningitis) or seizures. In rare cases, it can be fatal, especially in babies under 3 months.

PeV belongs to the picornaviridae family of viruses. It's closely related to enteroviruses – a group of viruses that cause common childhood infections like colds and hand, foot, and mouth disease.

PeV most often spreads through body fluids like:

  • Respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing
  • Saliva
  • Stool

You can also catch it when you touch surfaces that contain the virus, such as plates, utensils, or toilet seats, then later touch your nose or mouth.

Whether or not you have symptoms, you can spread the virus to others. PeV is most likely to spread in spring, summer, and fall.

Experts don’t know exactly how long it takes for symptoms to develop after you come into contact with the virus. But it’s thought to be between 3-10 days.

How long you're contagious depends on which type of PeV you have. If it's in your upper respiratory tract, you can “shed” or spread the virus for 1-3 weeks. If the virus is in your gut, it may be up to 6 months before you can spread it to others.

Most often, PeV doesn't cause any symptoms. Or they're mild ones, like minor diarrhea or fever, or flu-like respiratory symptoms. But certain strains can lead to serious illness, most often in young kids.

More serious signs to watch out for, especially in babies or toddlers, include:

  • High fever
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Floppiness
  • Seizures
  • Widespread rash

If your child has any of these, they need immediate treatment, even if a doctor saw them earlier in the course of their illness.

Anyone can get infected with PeV. But it most commonly affects children between 6 months and 5 years old, causing problems like fever, rash, and upper respiratory symptoms. In fact, most kids have had a PeV infection by the time they start kindergarten.

But PeV can cause much more serious illness in babies younger than 3 months -- and especially those younger than 1 month. In this age group, it could lead to:

  • Seizures
  • Sepsis. This happens when an infection causes your body’s immune system to get out of control, leading to widespread inflammation. Your child will need to go to the hospital. Without timely treatment, sepsis can cause organ failure and even death.
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the brain and spinal cord)
  • Encephalitis (infection of the brain)

In rare cases, the virus can cause long-term brain development problems in very young children.

If you think you or your child may have the virus, see your doctor.

To confirm whether you have PeV, they can tests body fluids and secretions like:

  • Stool
  • Blood
  • The cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord

To collect cerebrospinal fluid, the doctor inserts a long needle in your spine. This procedure is called a lumbar puncture or spinal tap.

There’s no specific treatment for PeV. For mild symptoms, rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen can help. (Don’t give aspirin to children under 12 unless your doctor OKs it.)

Young babies or children who have severe symptoms will need to be hospitalized. With timely help and proper care, most recover within a few days.

If your child has PeV, keep a close eye on them. If they appear to be drowsy, feel floppy, or if you’re not able to easily wake them up, call 911 or head to the nearest hospital as soon as possible.

There’s no vaccine to prevent PeV infection. Good hygiene is the best protection against it.

To stop the virus from spreading:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often. Do this after using the toilet, before you eat, before and after you change your child's diapers or clothes, and before you feed your child.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if you’re unable to use water and soap.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your upper arm whenever you cough or sneeze. Don't use your hand.
  • Don’t share food or utensils if you’re sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces your kids use, like floors, toys, and countertops.
  • Stay home if you have cold, flu, or diarrhea symptoms.
  • Stay away from babies and young children if you’re unwell. Wear a mask.

It's not clear how long you're infectious after you get PeV. But if your child gets it, keep them home for at least 48 hours after they stop having symptoms.