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Echovirus Infections

What Is the Echovirus?

The Echovirus is one of the many types of viruses that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These viruses are collectively called Enteroviruses. Enteroviruses are second only to rhinoviruses as the most common viruses in people. An example of a rhinovirus is the common cold. The name Echovirus is derived from the name "enteric cytopathic human orphan (ECHO) virus."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 10 to 15 million symptomatic Enterovirus infections in the United States each year. This means that infections with Echovirus and other Enteroviruses are very common.

You can become infected with Echovirus in many different ways. These include coming into contact with feces contaminated by the virus, breathing in infected air particles, or touching contaminated surfaces.

The illness that the virus typically produces in humans is relatively mild. In rare cases, a severe infection can occur.

What Are the Symptoms of Echovirus Infection?

Most people infected with Echovirus have no symptoms. If an infected person does develop symptoms, they’re typically mild upper-respiratory symptoms, such as:

  • a cough
  • a sore throat
  • flu-like symptoms
  • a rash

Other common symptoms include croup, which is breathing difficulty coupled with a barking cough.

Viral Meningitis

A less common symptom is viral meningitis, which is an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis may cause the following symptoms:

  • a fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • a severe sensitivity to light
  • a headache
  • a stiff or rigid neck

Viral meningitis usually isn’t life-threatening, but it can be so serious that you need to be hospitalized for it. The symptoms often appear rapidly and should disappear within two weeks with no complications.

Rare symptoms include myocarditis, which causes inflammation of the heart muscle, and encephalitis, which causes irritation and inflammation of the brain.

These conditions are uncommon, but they can be significant. Myocarditis can be fatal.

How Does Someone Get Infected with Echovirus?

The virus is very common. You may become infected with Echovirus if you come into contact with respiratory secretions like saliva or mucus from the nose or the feces of an infected person.

You can get the virus from direct contact with an infected person or by just touching contaminated surfaces or other household objects such as meal utensils or a telephone. A parent or childcare worker can become infected from a baby’s feces while changing their diaper.

Who Is at Risk of Infection?

Anyone can become infected. Adults are more likely to have built up immunity to certain types of Enteroviruses, but they can still become infected.

In the United States, the infection is more common during summer and fall.

How Is an Echovirus Infection Diagnosed?

Specific testing for Echovirus is often not performed. This is because Echovirus infections are usually very mild, and there’s no real treatment available.

Echovirus can be confirmed with the following laboratory tests:

  • a rectal culture
  • a stool culture
  • a throat culture
  • a spinal fluid culture

How Is Echovirus Treated?

Echovirus infections typically go away without treatment. There’s no antiviral treatment available for Echovirus infection.

What Are the Long-Term Complications?

Usually, there are no long-term complications. If you develop the less common symptom of encephalitis, you may not fully recover. If you develop myocarditis, you may need long-term care.

Complications During or After Pregnancy

There’s no evidence that pregnant women who become infected with Echovirus will experience an adverse outcome with their pregnancy. However, the newborn is at a higher risk of infection if they’re born during the same time that the mother is infected with the virus. Most newborns will have a mild illness.

On rare occasions, the virus can overwhelm the baby’s organs. This can be fatal. The risk of severe infection in newborns is highest during the first two weeks after birth.

How Can Echovirus Be Prevented?

Infection with an Echovirus cannot be directly prevented, and there’s no vaccine available.

It can be challenging to control the spread of the virus. This is because most people who have the infection don’t become sick and don’t know they’re carrying the virus.

Frequent hand washing and general cleanliness practices, such as cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, especially in childcare centers and other institutional settings, may help prevent the spread of the virus.

If you’re pregnant and you have an Echovirus infection, you should follow good personal hygiene practices during childbirth to prevent spreading the infection to your newborn.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Jacquelyn Cafasso
Medically reviewed on: Mar 07, 2016: Steve Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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