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 (the common cold virus) as the most common viruses in people. The name echovirus comes from the phrase enteric cytopathic human orphan (ECHO) virus.
Infection with echovirus and other enteroviruses is very common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 10 to 15 million symptomatic enterovirus infections in the United States each year (CDC, 2011).
A person can become infected with echovirus in many ways. These include coming in contact with feces contaminated by the virus, breathing in infected air particles, or touching contaminated surfaces.
The illness that the virus produces in humans is typically very mild. In rare cases, a severe infection can occur.
The virus is very common. A person may become infected with echovirus if he or she comes in 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 an infant’s feces while changing the child’s diaper.
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 U.S., the infection is more common during summer and fall.
Most people infected with echovirus have no symptoms. If an infected person does develop symptoms, they are typically mild upper-respiratory symptoms, flu-like symptoms, or a rash. Other common symptoms include a sore throat and croup (breathing difficulty with a barking cough).
A less common symptom is viral meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis may cause the following symptoms:
- fever and chills
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light
- stiff neck
Viral meningitis is usually not serious. Symptoms often appear rapidly and should disappear within two weeks with no complications.
Rare symptoms include:
- myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
- encephalitis (irritation and inflammation of the brain)
These symptoms are uncommon but can be significant. Myocarditis can be fatal.
Usually, there are no long-term complications. However, if a person develops the less common symptom of encephalitis, he or she may not fully recover. A person who develops myocarditis may require long-term care.
Complications During or After Pregnancy
There is 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 he or she is born at the same time 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.
Specific testing for echovirus is often not performed. This is because echovirus infections are usually very mild and there is no real treatment available.
Echovirus can be confirmed with the following laboratory tests:
- rectal culture
- stool culture
- throat culture
- spinal fluid culture
Echovirus infections typically go away on their own without treatment. There is no antiviral treatment available for echovirus infection.
Echovirus cannot be directly prevented and there is no vaccine available.
It can be challenging to control the spread of the virus. This is because most people who have the infection do not become sick and do not know they are 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.
Pregnant women with an echovirus infection should adhere to good personal hygiene practices during childbirth, so they do not transmit the infection to their newborn.