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Enterovirus in children

3-minute read

Enteroviruses cause a range of illnesses that are usually mild. This page explains the different types of enterovirus infection, and how you can help prevent them through good hygiene.

What is an enterovirus?

An enterovirus is a virus that enters the body through the mouth and is absorbed through the gut (‘entero’ means intestine).

Most enterovirus infections have no symptoms, or cause only a mild fever. These might come and go quickly without you noticing very much and without you needing to do anything in particular about them.

Some enteroviruses cause minor illnesses, such as hand, foot and mouth disease.

A child with hand, foot and mouth disease will feel unwell for a week or more, and will develop small blisters on their hands and feet, and maybe in their mouth as well.

There are a few types of enterovirus infections that cause serious illnesses.

  • Polio is caused by an enterovirus — thankfully polio has been eradicated in Australia, but travellers may need vaccination.
  • Enterovirus 71 (EV71) can cause serious illnesses like meningitis or encephalitis in infants and young children.
  • Human parechovirus (HPeV) can cause high fever and a skin rash.
  • Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), which is rare, can cause problems ranging from coughing and wheezing to paralysis.

What are the signs and symptoms of an enterovirus in children?

The signs and symptoms of mild enterovirus infection include:

  • fever
  • rash
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • sore throat
  • ulcers or blisters in the mouth or on the hands and feet

If you think your child might be infected, it’s a good idea to take them to the doctor for a check-up.

Symptoms of more serious infection include:

  • vomiting
  • cough
  • a stiff neck
  • seizures
  • unsteadiness
  • excessive irritability
  • weakness or paralysis
  • an unusually fast heart rate
  • breathing difficulties

If your child shows any of these signs, you should take them to a doctor or hospital without delay.

How might my child catch an enterovirus?

Your child is most likely to catch an enterovirus from someone else’s infected saliva, mucus, phlegm or faeces.

Your child might also pick up an infection if they come into contact with toys or other objects that have been touched by infected children. They might suck on a toy, or touch a contaminated toy or child before putting their hands in their mouth.

In the case of hand, foot and mouth disease, a child might become infected after touching the blisters on an infected child. Blisters are infectious until they are completely dry.

How can I prevent my child from catching an enterovirus?

No matter what preventive steps you take, there is a high chance that your child will become infected with an enterovirus at some time. However, good hygiene is known to help decrease the spread of infection.

You can lower the risk of your child becoming infected by:

  • washing your hands thoroughly and often, especially before eating, and after toileting, changing nappies or wiping noses
  • washing your children’s hands
  • cleaning surfaces that might have been contaminated, such as nappy-changing tables, with detergent and water
  • cleaning toys, clothing or other items that you think might be contaminated
  • avoiding the sharing of cups, cutlery, towels and toothbrushes
  • encouraging your child to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or their arm when they cough or sneeze

If your child does become infected, keep them away from childcare or school to help stop them spreading the infection to others.

How is enterovirus in children treated?

There is no specific treatment for an enterovirus infection. Most infected children get better on their own.

If your child has a high temperature or is uncomfortable, paracetamol can be used to help relieve the symptoms.

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.

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Last reviewed: September 2020

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