The echovirus is one of the many types of viruses that live in the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The name “echovirus” is derived from enteric cytopathic human orphan (ECHO) virus.

Echoviruses belong to a group of viruses called enteroviruses. They’re second only to rhinoviruses as the most common viruses that affect people. (Rhinoviruses are often responsible for causing the common cold.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 10 to 15 million enterovirus infections in the United States each year that cause noticeable symptoms.

You can become infected with an echovirus in many different ways, including:

  • coming into contact with poop contaminated by the virus
  • breathing in infected airborne particles
  • touching surfaces contaminated with the virus

The illness that results from an infection by an echovirus is usually mild and should respond to treatment at home with over-the-counter medications and rest.

But in rare cases, infections and their symptoms can become severe and need medical treatment.

Most people infected by an echovirus don’t have any symptoms.

If symptoms do appear, they’re usually mild and affect your upper respiratory tract. Possible symptoms include:

Viral meningitis

A much less common symptom of an echovirus infection is viral meningitis. This is an infection of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord.

Viral meningitis can cause the following symptoms:

Viral meningitis usually isn’t life threatening. But it can become serious enough to require a hospital visit and medical treatment.

Symptoms of viral meningitis often appear rapidly and should disappear within 2 weeks with no complications.

Rare but serious symptoms of viral meningitis include:

  • myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be fatal
  • encephalitis, the irritation and inflammation of the brain

You may become infected with an echovirus if you come into contact with respiratory fluids or substances from someone who’s infected, such as saliva, mucus from the nose, or poop.

You can also get the virus from:

  • direct contact with an infected person, such as by hugging, shaking hands, or kissing
  • touching contaminated surfaces or household objects, such as meal utensils or a telephone
  • coming into contact with a baby’s infected poop while changing their diaper

Anyone can become infected.

As an adult, you’re more likely to have built up immunity to certain types of enteroviruses. But you can still get infected, especially if your immune system is compromised by medication or a condition that weakens your immune system.

In the United States, echovirus infections are more common during summer and fall.

Your doctor won’t usually test specifically for an echovirus infection. This is because echovirus infections are typically very mild, and there’s no specific or effective treatment available.

Your doctor will likely use one or more of the following laboratory tests to diagnose an echovirus infection:

  • Rectal culture: A swab of tissue from your rectum is tested for the presence of viral material.
  • Stool culture: A sample of your poop is tested for the presence of the virus.
  • Throat culture: A swab of your throat is examined to look for the virus in saliva or mucus.
  • Spinal fluid culture: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is drawn from your spine and examined to look for viral material that may cause meningitis.

Echovirus infections typically go away in a few days or so without treatment. More severe infections may last a week or longer.

There aren’t currently any antiviral treatments available for echovirus infection, but research is being conducted on possible treatments.

Usually, there are no long-term complications.

You may need long-term care or further treatment if you develop encephalitis or myocarditis from an echovirus infection.

This can include physical therapy for movement loss or speech therapy for loss of communication skills.

Complications after or during pregnancy

There’s no evidence that an echovirus infection causes any harm to an unborn fetus during pregnancy or after the child is born.

But a child’s risk of contracting an echovirus infection is much higher if the mother has an active infection while giving birth. In these cases, the child will have a mild form of the infection.

In rare cases, the echovirus can severely infect the baby’s organs and become fatal. The risk of this kind of severe infection in newly born children is highest during the first 2 weeks after birth.

Echovirus infections can’t be directly prevented, and there’s no specific vaccine available for the echovirus.

The spread of an echovirus infection can be especially hard to control because you may not even realize you’re infected or carrying the viruses if your symptoms are mild or you don’t have any symptoms at all.

You can help prevent the spread of the virus simply by keeping your hands and your environment clean.

Wash your hands frequently and regularly disinfect any shared surfaces at home or at your workplace, especially if you work in a child care center or other similar institutional setting like a school.

If you’re pregnant and have an echovirus infection, follow good hygiene practices while you’re giving birth to help prevent the spread of the infection to your child.