Enterovirus infections often cause no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms. In rare cases, they can lead to complications with more serious effects. Children and people with weaker immune systems are most at risk.
Enteroviruses are a group of viruses from the Enterovirus genus. “Entero” means intestine, which is how these viruses enter your body.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), enteroviruses are responsible for about
Enterovirus infections do not always cause symptoms. If symptoms occur, they’re usually mild and include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
Babies, children, and teens are much more likely to have symptoms than adults.
In rare cases, enteroviruses can cause more serious complications. These include inflammation in the brain (meningitis) or heart muscle (myocarditis), as well as a rash called hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD).
Infants, people with respiratory conditions like asthma, or people with weakened immune systems have a higher chance of experiencing these complications.
- enterovirus A through L, which includes the subspecies:
- coxsackievirus (CV)
- poliovirus (PV)
- rhinovirus A through C
Each subspecies has several serotypes. Three
Certain types of enteroviruses are more likely to cause severe symptoms and complications than other types.
Common symptoms of rhinoviruses include:
Rhinoviruses can also cause wheezing and trouble with breathing. They can make breathing more difficult for people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and may require hospitalization.
Coxsackieviruses often do not cause symptoms. If they do, you’ll likely have symptoms similar to the common cold or flu.
But coxsackieviruses, particularly CV-A6 and CV-A16, are known to cause HFMD. HFMD is
Symptoms of HFMD include:
- blisters or sores in the mouth, which can be painful
- rash on the hands and feet (usually appears as flat, red spots)
- sore throat
An echovirus infection usually does not cause any symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they’re likely to be similar to those of the cold or flu.
Rarely, an echovirus infection can cause a complication known as viral meningitis. This is an infection of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
Viral meningitis can cause the following symptoms:
Viral meningitis can sometimes be serious enough to require a hospital visit.
Poliovirus, the virus that causes polio, is also a type of enterovirus. Most people with poliovirus infections will not have symptoms. According to the CDC, about
- sore throat
The most notable complication of poliovirus is poliomyelitis, or polio for short. Polio causes paralysis, which means you lose the ability to move parts of your body, including the muscles that help you breathe. This occurs in
Widespread use of the polio vaccine has largely led to the eradication (killing off) of polioviruses in the United States.
Other types of enteroviruses
Two other well-known enteroviruses are enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) and enterovirus A71 (EV-A71).
EV-D68 typically causes mild symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body aches. But in 2014, EV-D68 caused a nationwide outbreak of respiratory illness in the United States. The CDC now monitors it closely.
In rare cases, EV-D68 may also cause a serious neurologic condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) in children.
Symptoms of AFM include:
EV-A71 is well known because it has caused
Can enteroviruses affect your brain?
In rare cases, enteroviruses can cause inflammation in your brain’s outer layer (meningitis) or tissue (encephalitis). These conditions cause more severe symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, or seizures. Enteroviruses, particularly coxsackieviruses and echoviruses, cause
Still, very few people with enterovirus infections will develop these brain complications. Most people who get mild viral meningitis or encephalitis from an enterovirus infection recover completely without treatment.
By the time you’re a teen or adult, you’ve probably already had at least one type of enterovirus infection. After your first infection, your body’s immune system can remember the virus and build immunity to it.
This immunity acts as protection, and adults with immunity can usually fight off an enterovirus infection without having any symptoms.
Infants and children, on the other hand, may not yet have built up immunity to enteroviruses, so they’re much more likely to experience symptoms.
Common symptoms of enteroviruses in children are similar to those of the common cold. They include:
- runny or congested nose
- sore throat
- body aches
Severe symptoms are more common in:
- children with weakened immune systems
- children with respiratory conditions, such as asthma
Most people with enterovirus symptoms will usually recover in
Are enteroviruses contagious?
Enteroviruses are highly contagious and spread easily from person to person.
You can come in contact with an enterovirus if you:
- touch a surface contaminated with the virus before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- share drinks or utensils with someone who has the virus
- breathe in airborne virus particles
- come in contact with feces (poop) that contains the virus
Once you have contracted the virus, you can pass it on to others for
Most enterovirus infections don’t cause any complications, and symptoms are mild. Complications are more common in infants or people with weakened immune systems or asthma.
Some enterovirus infections can cause complications such as:
- viral conjunctivitis (eye infection)
- severe respiratory illness
- viral meningitis (inflammation of the tissues around the spinal cord and brain)
- viral encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
- pericarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart)
- sepsis, though this is very rare
Infants under 3 months old should see a doctor if their fever is 100.4°F (38°C) or above. Adults and children should see a doctor if they have a fever above 103°F (39.4°C) or if their fever persists longer than 2 days.
You or your child should also see a doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms or if symptoms have not improved after a few days:
Most enterovirus infections go away on their own without treatment after a few days. A doctor might recommend over-the-counter treatments to help ease your symptoms and discomfort while you fight the infection. These may include:
- pain medications, such as acetaminophen for headaches and fever
- cough drops or lozenges for a sore throat
- ointments to help soothe blisters or rashes from HFMD
More severe symptoms, such as wheezing or difficulty breathing, might require a visit to the hospital. A doctor might recommend:
- a ventilator (breathing machine) to help you breathe
- intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration
- antiviral medications
You can help prevent enterovirus infections by washing your hands often for
You can teach your children healthy hygiene tips, such as washing their hands with soap and warm water and avoiding putting their hands or other objects in or near their mouths.
You can also help prevent infections by cleaning and disinfecting common areas of your home, like the kitchen, bathroom, and living room.
Since infants are particularly susceptible to getting enterovirus, keep your baby away from anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
If you or your child is experiencing flu-like symptoms, stay home from school or work and avoid public areas and contact with others. This will help prevent the transmission of the virus to others.
There is a vaccine available to protect against poliovirus. There are not yet vaccines available to protect against non-polio enterovirus infections.
Enteroviruses mostly cause symptoms in infants and children but can also affect adults.
Symptoms tend to be mild and similar to those of the common cold or flu. In rare cases, the viruses may cause inflammation in the brain or heart, paralysis, or severe respiratory complications.
Contact a doctor if you or your child has flu-like symptoms that don’t go away, get worse over time, or cause symptoms such as:
- severe headache
- chest pain
- trouble breathing