Your Child’s “Summer Cold” Might Just Be an Enterovirus

by Jessa McClure on July 13, 2012

in Medical Information

Find out what symptoms to look for and how to reduce your child’s risk of getting sick

Anna Myers, MD

Anna C. Myers, MD

We generally think of winter as the time for colds and the flu. I mean, they are called “colds,” right? So, when your child comes down with a fever and other cold-like symptoms in the steamy months of summer, it seems out of place.

The “summer cold” might actually be an illness that is part of the enterovirus family, which includes polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses and other non-polioviruses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 to 15 million symptomatic infections a year in the United States and are actually very common.

What is an enterovirus?

“An enterovirus is an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus that is transmitted from person to person through the respiratory or the GI tract,” said Scott & White pediatrician, Anna C. Myers, MD.

The pediatrician said that enteroviruses tend to be more resilient than other types of viruses and tend to thrive in temperate climates. That is why they are more common in the warm, humid summers.

What are the symptoms of an enterovirus?

“I would say, 90 percent of enteroviruses seem to present with fever for five to seven days, body aches, respiratory symptoms and loose stool,” Dr. Myers said. “We see a lot of kids in the summer months that have some nonspecific viral symptoms like fever that very well could be an enterovirus.”

Other possible symptoms could include:

  • Myalgia – muscle or body aches
  • GI irritation like diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Non-specific viral rashes

Can enteroviruses be dangerous?

“The coxsackie virus falls under the enterovirus family and is a really common cause of hand, foot and mouth disease,” she said. “But other types of coxsackie virus can lead to myocarditis, which is a really severe infection involving the heart.”

And other enteroviruses could cause encephalitis (swelling of the brain) or severe meningitis (bacterial infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord).

“But the majority present with mild, viral-type symptoms,” Dr. Myers said.

How is an enterovirus diagnosed?

Usually, viruses are not tested to see if they are part of a specific family.

“We just diagnose it as a viral syndrome if it fits the symptoms,” she said. “And then we treat supportively with Tylenol or ibuprofen and increased fluids.”

If the child’s symptoms seem more severe and the doctor wants to know specifically what is ailing that patient, they can perform a variety of viral cultures including blood tests, throat swabs or stool swabs.

When should the patient seek medical attention?

  • If a fever has gone on more than five to seven days
  • If there is a change in your child’s consciousness
  • If your child is having trouble breathing
  • If there’s compromised hyrdration – the child is not drinking well or urinating well.

All of the above symptoms would prompt immediate medical attention, Dr. Myers said.

Can an enterovirus be prevented?

“Since the viruses are mostly transmitted mostly through the fecal route or respiratory transmission, really good hand-washing is key to prevention,” Dr. Myers said.

The doctor also suggests staying away from playmates who are sick or who have been running a fever. Your child’s friend should be fever-free for 24 to 48 hours before coming in contact with your little one.

“Parents will come in baffled, thinking there must be something wrong if their child has a fever and nothing else,” the pediatrician said. “And [an enterovirus] is usually the explanation for kids who come in during the summer months and have fever and really not much else.”

For more information on the enteroviruses, visit cdc.gov or ask a Scott & White pediatrician.

Has your child ever had a “summer cold?” Did it fall under the symptoms of an enterovirus?

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