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CDC warns of 'unusually large' cluster of 23 parechovirus cases in a month

CDC warns of ‘unusually large’ cluster of 23 cases of brain inflammation in children under three months, fueled by a common virus that leads to cold sickness in most but is more dangerous in infants

  • Babies were all diagnosed over a month to mid-May this year
  • Each suffered from inflammation of the brain and meninges as a result of the infection
  • Most recovered, but one child could have lifelong seizures, while a second could have permanent hearing loss
  • Parechovirus is a common infection that usually causes no symptoms
  • But it can be dangerous in children under six months of age, causing fever, seizures and brain inflammation. It can also be fatal in rare cases

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An ‘unusually large’ cluster of 23 babies under three months has contracted encephalitis in Tennessee after being infected with the parechovirus – and COVID-19 lockdowns could be the cause.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the babies were all diagnosed over a one-month period through mid-May this year, and all but one were hospitalized. In 2018, only four cases per month were registered in the spring.

Parechovirus infections are common in children and usually resolve without symptoms, but in children under six months of age, the disease can cause fever, seizures, and brain inflammation — and in rare cases, fatal. It is normally passed on through contact with siblings or parents.

dr. Lili Tao, the microbiologist at Vanderbilt University who led the paper, told DailyMail.com that the rise may be due to “social distancing” to stop the spread of Covid, which also weakens immunity against this virus, which is now a wave of cases ensues.

The babies were all diagnosed over a one-month period through mid-May this year, and all but one were hospitalized.  (stock image)

The babies were all diagnosed over a one-month period through mid-May this year, and all but one were hospitalized. (stock image)

The rise in the number of cases was revealed in the CDCs Weekly report on morbidity and mortality (MMWR), the leading disease publication in the United States.

It said the children were aged between five days and three months with a median age of 24 days, and 13 were female while 10 were male.

They all suffered from inflammation of the brain and lining of the brain as a result of the infection – medically referred to as human parechovirus meningoencephalitis. Several also had fevers, nervousness and poor food.

What is parechovirus?

Parechovirus is a common and normally harmless infection in children and adults.

Most cases cause few or no symptoms and quickly resolve on their own.

But the virus is much more dangerous in children under six months of age, where an infection can cause fever, seizures and brain inflammation. In rare cases, it can also be fatal.

How do I catch the parechovirus?

The disease can be caught by breathing air from an infected person.

It can also be transmitted through the fecal-oral route, where a person touches a stool-contaminated surface and then their mouth.

What are the symptoms?

In many cases, it may cause few or no symptoms.

But in more severe infections, the virus can cause fever, irritability, nausea, and diarrhea.

In children under six months of age, it can also cause brain inflammation and seizures — and in rare cases, be fatal.

Is there a treatment?

There is no specifically designed treatment for the virus.

But sick newborns can be given immunoglobins, an intravenous drug that boosts immunity.

They may also be given Pleconaril, an oral antiviral drug that fights infections.

Source: Cleveland Clinic.

All but one were hospitalized at the Marrow Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital in Nashville.

Four of the children were transferred to the intensive care unit for treatment.

Most children recovered from the disease, but one may have permanent seizures, while a second may have permanent hearing loss.

The cases were diagnosed between April 12 and May 24 of this year.

It was not clear how they became infected, but the researchers noted that 16 lived with siblings or were exposed to other children.

One also became infected while in the wards of a neonatal ward.

When asked how the babies got infected, Dr. Tao said many of the patients came from homes where another member had symptoms of a respiratory virus — a telltale sign of parechovirus.

“It suggests it might be a family member who has had the infection and probably passed it on to the very small babies,” she said.

It was also not clear what treatment the babies had received.

Cases of parechovirus usually increase about every two years in the spring and summer months in line with warming conditions.

But this normally goes largely unnoticed because the virus rarely causes serious infections in humans.

But in 2020 — when the next spike was expected — none were detected as COVID-19 restrictions kept many at home and away from others.

Tao said the investigation was sparked after medics noticed more children were affected by the parechovirus than usual.

When asked if it could be caused by a drop in immunity due to restrictions that stop the spread of the virus, she said: “We can’t say for sure, but there’s a reasonable chance it’s associated with social distance.

“We haven’t seen a peak in the virus in 2020, which suggests it’s related.”

She couldn’t say whether it was caused by factors similar to the wave of childhood hepatitis cases.

British scientists say it could be caused by lockdowns that weaken children’s immunity, but in America health officials say there was no abnormal rise in hepatitis cases.

There were 19 cases of parechovirus detected in Tennessee over five spring months in 2018, data shows. Seven cases had been reported from 2019 to 2021.

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