Parents are being warned to watch out for a potentially dangerous virus similar to hand, foot and mouth disease that has already infected 300 newborns.
Doctors say there is a “mini-epidemic” of parechovirus, a respiratory and gastrointestinal infection that in severe cases can cause hepatitis or encephalitis. It affects young babies up to 30 days old and there is no vaccine or cure for the virus, which can require treatment in intensive care.
There have been 83 recent cases in Victoria, 183 confirmed cases in New South Wales in the three months to January and 11 in Queensland. NSW Health sent an alert about the virus to GPs, advising that the infection could have a “rapid onset”. Symptoms to look out for include a red rash, irritability, fever and diarrhoea.
Dr Julian Druce, of the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory, tells Fairfax Media that cases of parechovirus have increased significantly this year after seeing just five to 10 cases annually in the past few years.
The virus is related to the very contagious hand, foot and mouth disease, which causes blisters on the mouth, hands, feet and nappy area. Monash Children’s Hospital head of paediatric infectious diseases Professor Jim Buttery says parechovirus is a more serious strain.
“Unusually for hand, foot and mouth disease the parechovirus infection that has hit this year has seen babies presenting in the neonatal period, which is something we haven’t seen before,” he tells Fairfax.
But he says most cases have been mild and most babies had recovered within a week, so parents should be not alarmed but seek advice from their doctor or closest emergency department. Washing hands thoroughly after going to the toilet, wiping noses and changing nappies or soiled clothing, and before eating, can help prevent infection.
(via Sydney Morning Herald)