CDC: 'Unusually large' number of newborns are being infected with a life-threatening virus that can trigger fever, delirium, seizures, and sepsis

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  • An "unusually large" number of parechovirus cases have been diagnosed in newborns across the US this year.
  • At least one baby died. Others have suffered persistent seizures that may cause brain damage.
  • Fevers, fussiness, and poor feeding are three of the common signs that a newborn may be sick.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say an "unusually large cluster" of life-threatening infections are being diagnosed in newborns this year. The infections — which are caused by a common parechovirus — can trigger a range of troubling symptoms in babies including fever, fussiness, poor feeding, and strange rashes.

At least one newborn child has died from the virus this year, and others have suffered debilitating consequences.

Federal health officials suspect that the uptick in severe cases "might reflect relaxation of COVID-19 isolation measures," and the fact that more diseases of all kinds are traveling around from person to person now. 

In a new report released on Thursday, CDC clinicians detailed how at one children's hospital in Tennessee, 23 "previously healthy infants" ranging in age from just five days to three months old were diagnosed with parechovirus infections during a six week period from mid-April to the end of May. 

The most common symptoms those children shared included:

  • Fevers (20/23 babies)
  • Fussiness (13/23 babies)
  • Poor feeding (8/23 babies)

The cluster of cases is especially alarming because while parechovirus infections are common in young kids, typically that number of cases would be logged over a period of several months at this hospital, not weeks.

Earlier in July, the CDC warned clinicians nationwide that a dangerous form of parechovirus, PeV-A3, is circulating in "multiple states." Disease experts are recommending doctors test any babies who may present with fevers, sepsis-like syndrome, seizures, or meningitis, "without another known cause."

The virus can prompt hearing loss and 'severe' brain damage

Of the 23 patients in this study, 21 recovered from their viral infections without any known complications. But one baby suffered possible hearing loss and blood clotting issues, while another went through "persistent seizures" and clinicians expect that child will have "severe" developmental delays. 

Most children will contract some form of parechovirus by the time they enter kindergarten, but the viral illness can be especially dangerous for the very littlest babies who get it (those under 3 months old). In 2017, pediatricians and infectious disease experts in New Zealand said parechovirus "is increasingly being recognized as a potentially severe viral infection" in babies. 

"I always tell parents that there's nothing that they can do to really prevent these infections when they happen," Dr. Claire Bocchini, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Texas Children's Hospital, previously told Insider.

Bocchini says the virus type A3 can prompt a "variety" of severe symptoms in babies' brains, leading to seizures and brain damage.

She recommends parents and caregivers practice "very good handwashing," especially after going to the bathroom and changing diapers, and keep newborn infants away from sick people as much as possible.

"Babies, unfortunately, are at risk of severe outcomes for multiple viruses," she said. "But this is certainly a scary one."

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