What Are Enteroviruses?
Enteroviruses (en-teh-roe-VY-rus-sez) are a common cause of infection in people of all ages, with symptoms that can range from mild to serious. Most enterovirus infections happen in the summer and fall.
There are many kinds of enteroviruses, including coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, polioviruses, and the hepatitis A virus. They can infect anyone, but are more likely to cause illnesses in people with weak immune systems, as well as infants, children, and teens who don't have immunity against a virus yet because it’s their first exposure to it.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Enterovirus Infections?
Most people with an enterovirus infection don't get sick. For those who do, symptoms depend on the type of enterovirus and which part of the body it affects. Most often a child will simply have a fever or mild cold symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or muscle aches.
Less often, enteroviruses can cause:
- conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
- hand, foot, and mouth disease
- pericarditis (infection of the sac that surrounds the heart)
Sometimes, specific types of enterovirus cause outbreaks. An outbreak is when a disease happens in greater numbers than expected in a particular area. For example, enterovirus D6 causes outbreaks in the United States every couple of years. This type of enterovirus can sometimes cause serious breathing problems in children and teens, especially young babies, or children with asthma or a weak immune system. Rarely, it also can cause acute flaccid myelitis, which can lead to severe weakness of the arms or legs.
Is Enterovirus Contagious?
Yes. Enteroviruses spread easily from person to person, usually on unwashed hands and surfaces contaminated by poop, where they can live for several days. They also can spread through droplets when someone with an infection coughs or sneezes, or through fluid in skin blisters.
Someone who is infected can spread the virus to others for a few weeks, even if they don’t have symptoms.
A pregnant woman can pass the virus to her baby if she gets infected shortly before giving birth.
How Are Enterovirus Infections Diagnosed?
Enterovirus infection symptoms are much like those caused by other infections. Usually, doctors won’t do tests if someone has mild symptoms. For a serious infection, doctors can test fluids from the person’s nose or throat. They also can test blood, urine (pee), stool (poop), or spinal fluid to look for the virus.
How Are Enterovirus Infections Treated?
There is no specific treatment for enterovirus infection. The focus is on easing symptoms until the infection has run its course, which usually takes only a few days.
Infants (especially newborns and premature babies), people with weak immune systems, and healthy children and adults with severe enterovirus infections may need treatment in a hospital.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your doctor if your child is sick and:
- has a high fever or one that lasts more than a few days
- has breathing problems
- is under 3 months old
- has a weak immune system
- has red eyes, eye pain, or a change in vision
- has signs of dehydration, such as peeing less or having fewer wet diapers, a dry mouth, sunken eyes, acting tired and listless
You know your child best. If your child seems very ill, call your doctor right away.
What Can Help Prevent Enterovirus Infections?
The only enterovirus infection that can be prevented by vaccination is polio.
As with other infections, the best prevention measures include washing hands well and often, avoiding contact with sick people, and keeping household surfaces clean and disinfected.