Human parechovirus found in 14 Kansas City-area newborns

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- State health departments in Kansas and Missouri are investigating 14 cases of a viral infection in babies that's causing meningitis. The investigation includes nine cases in Kansas residents and five in Missouri residents.

Health officials are calling the 14 cases a "possible cluster" of parechovirus infection, but they say no common factors that link the cases have been identified so far. No deaths have been reported.

Children's Mercy Hospital says it's treated 20 cases altogether this summer of meningitis resulting from parechovirus, and that number is not unusual.

"This is a virus we've seen before. We've seen more cases before in other seasons," said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an infectious disease specialist.

But Dr. Jackson says there have been more cases this summer of babies just a few weeks old who are seriously ill with meningitis from the virus.

"Mainly these babies have had severe neurologic manifestations with seizures and changes on MRI that are consistent with parechovirus. Still, the prognosis looks good for them. So even babies that have an intensive care unit course with multiple anticonvulsants, they've gone home," said Dr. Jackson.

The investigation by the state health departments of 14 cases in newborns started with a baby who became infected in late June and was born at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. There have since been three more cases in babies born there. An infectious disease specialist with that hospital said the babies did not become ill until they were home, and there's no evidence that they became infected at the hospital.

"Any place that does very many deliveries at this time of year is going to have babies who will acquire this virus. It's a very common childhood virus," said Dr. John Fried.

Handwashing is key to preventing parechovirus. So is keeping your baby away from others who are sick. Parechovirus is spread through body secretions such as feces and saliva. Dr. Jackson says it's often spread from toddlers to babies.

Symptoms of meningitis include high fever, seizures, irritability, poor eating and a rash. Again, this is viral meningitis not bacterial. Bacterial tends to be deadlier.

Dr. Jackson says parechovirus has probably long been a cause of meningitis, but a way to test for it only became available five years ago.