An outbreak of a rare and potentially deadly virus has left 55 newborns sick, with most of the infected babies under 3 months-old. The parechovirus, a respiratory and gastrointestinal infection, has swept through parts of Queensland, including Brisbane and the Gold Coast, leaving newborns with diarrhoea, a temperature, lethargic and refusing to eat.
In 2015 there were 172 cases of parechovirus in Queensland. Last month alone, two babies from Toowoomba were left fighting for their lives in intensive care after almost dying from the virus. One required surgery, having her chest cut open and receiving painful spinal taps.
If you haven’t heard of parechovirus, you aren’t alone. This not-so-well-known virus is potentially fatal in young babies. Even though it’s not spreading in epidemic proportions, we definitely need to be vigilant about it.
First reported in Australia in 2013, the virus typically causes gastrointestinal or respiratory illnesses. According to the State Government of Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, between 50 and 80% of adults show no symptoms of infection. For very young infants, the same can’t be said. Babies under 3 months are most at risk, and may develop severe symptoms such as meningitis, encephalitis, seizures or paralysis.
How are these babies getting parechovirus?
There are two ways that the virus is spread: Person-to-person contact (contact with faeces, respiratory droplets or saliva is necessary), or by touching contaminated objects. Even though researchers at the Queensland Paediatric Infectious Diseases laboratory have already created a test for the virus, not all GPs are aware of the virus. This can potentially lead to a misdiagnosis, thinking it’s another type of infection.
What happens after parechovirus is diagnosed?
Currently, there are no treatments available for the virus. Infants with severe cases typically require a hospital stay, receiving supportive care and symptom relief. When baby girl Tinley Beutel was hospitalized with the virus her mum, Skye Browne, told the Daily Mail, “I thought she was going to die. I didn’t think she would make it. Her heart rate was all over the place, her blood pressure was dropping. They had to put her on life support to keep everything stable.” In Tinley’s case, doctors weren’t immediately sure that she had parechovirus. Her symptoms appeared to indicate a twisted bowl or meningitis. It wasn’t until five days later that the baby was diagnosed with parechovirus.
Parents concerned about this virus should be on the lookout for the more mild symptoms (which may quickly turn into serious ones).
Initial symptoms include:
More severe symptoms that may initially indicate the infection include:
- Rapid breathing
- High fever
Never self-diagnose your child with this (or any, for that matter) illness. If you have concerns about your child’s health or she is showing any of the symptoms call a medical professional immediately. There is no substitute for professional medical advice and emergency care.
There is currently no vaccine for the illness. Protecting your child from parechovirus means observing good personal hygiene.
Always was your hands (and your child’s hands) with soap and water after using the toilet, changing nappies and before/after eating. Wash dirty clothing, surfaces and toys that have come in contact with anyone infected with the virus. Keep in mind, even though babies under 3-months are the most at risk for serious cases of the virus, anyone of any age can catch it.