What is an enterovirus?
Enterovirus is the name given to a group of different viruses. These viruses are very common and there are many different types. 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 may feel unwell for a week or more. They may also develop small blisters on their hands and feet and sometimes in their mouth.
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 vaccination is still important to prevent the spread of cases imported to Australia by travellers.
- Enterovirus 71 (EV-71) 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) is rare, but can cause problems ranging from coughing and wheezing to paralysis.
What are the signs and symptoms of an enterovirus in children?
- loss of appetite and fatigue
- sore throat
- ulcers or blisters in the mouth or on the hands and feet
The signs and symptoms of mild enterovirus infection include:
If you think your child might have enterovirus, it’s a good idea to take them to a doctor.
Symptoms of more serious infection include:
If you, your child or someone else is having trouble breathing, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
A serious infection can also lead to neurological signs including:
- weakness or paralysis
- excessive irritability in babies and young children
If your child shows any of these signs, and you think they may be infected with an enterovirus, you should take them to a doctor or hospital straight away.
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 (poo).
Your child might also become infected if they touch toys or other objects that have been touched by infected children. They might suck on a toy, or touch a contaminated toy or child and then put 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 point. However, good hygiene can help decrease the spread of infection.
You can lower the risk of your child becoming infected by:
- washing your hands and your child’s hands thoroughly and often, especially before eating and after toileting, changing nappies or wiping noses
- 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 if a tissue is not available 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. Read more on common childhood illnesses that have a school exclusion period.
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 help relieve the symptoms. Check the instructions on the pack before you give your child paracetamol, as dosing can vary between formulations. Mistakes are easy to make and giving your child too much paracetamol can be dangerous. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you aren’t sure.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: November 2022