What should I know about enteroviruses?

What are these viruses?

Enteroviruses are very common viruses which are passed among children.  They are usually harmless and get better on their own with time, although they can have some annoying symptoms.  In our area (middle Tennessee), they are seen primarily in the spring and summer (sometimes the early fall.)

What kind of symptoms do kids get with enteroviruses?

There are several different types of illnesses that the enteroviruses cause.  Interestingly, the same virus can cause a variety of symptoms, which may be different between several children.  The common symptoms are:

  • fever with rash.  In fact, during the summer months, they are the most common cause of rashes in kids.   An enterovirus called “Coxsackie A16” virus is the cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease; other coxsackie viruses cause rashes which may appear as blisters, bumps, red spots, or bug-bite type lesions.  In 2012, Coxsackie A6 virus caused epidemics of a very extreme form of hand, foot, and mouth disease with enormous blisters, bright rashes, and peeling hands and feet.
  • fever with runny nose, headache, and chest pain
  • fever with vomiting and diarrhea

Can you get these viruses more than once?

Yes, unfortunately.   There are about 68 different enteroviruses.  A child will become immune to one particular virus after catching it, but can still catch any of the other types.

Do children need to be on medication?

No.  Because these symptoms are caused by viral illnesses, unfortunately there are no antibiotics which will cure them.  Treatment tends to be targeted at the symptoms (e.g. pain medication for mouth sores, Benadryl for itching, etc.) until the virus runs it course.  Obviously, if a child is ill-appearing or has a specific complication (e.g. pneumonia or hepatitis), treatment would be different for that particular child.

What can be done to prevent their spread?

This family of viruses can stay alive for several days at room temperature, but are rapidly killed by heat and chlorination.  The incubation period is 3-6 days, depending on the virus. In infected children, the virus is present in saliva and stool.  The viruses are typically NOT spread by the respiratory route. Usually a child has been contagious for several days before symptoms start to appear.   Therefore, unless children have other symptoms which exclude their participation in daycare or school (e.g. fever, diarrhea, etc), there is no reason to keep them out of school.  Good handwashing before eating, after using the restroom, etc. is a must.