health

Doctors warn parents to be on the lookout for parecheovirus, a rare and potentially fatal virus affecting newborns.

Parents around Australia are being urged to keep an eye on young babies following the news that 55 newborns have been struck down in Queensland by a rare, and potentially dangerous virus.

Parecheovirus is a gastrointestinal and respiratory infection. In 50-80 per cent of adults, the virus shows no symptoms however for young babies (especially those under three months of age) the impact can be devastating with the virus known to cause meningitis, encephalitis, seizures and paralysis.

In adults, the virus can cause no symptoms but in newborns the impact can be horrific. Image: Supplied

In 2015, Queensland Health reported 172 cases of parecheovirus. In the last month alone, two babies have been left fighting for their lives in intensive care units. One of these babies needed to have her chest cut open surgically.

I know first hand just how quickly the virus can take hold.

My daughter, Isla, was three months old she was struck down with parecheovirus.

She woke one morning, perhaps a little grizzly, but otherwise well. Being a weekend, my husband and I bundled our tribe of children into the car to complete mundane errands. When we arrived back at home I got Isla out of her car seat and noticed that she felt quite hot. Sure enough the thermometer confirmed that she was running a pretty significant fever.

When she started rejecting feeds over the next couple of hours, I grew more concerned.

Mother’s instinct told me that this was more than just a minor bug.

Over the course of the afternoon she went downhill. I called the medical advice line and told them that she was now vomiting. Not a little newborn vomit, violent projectile vomit. At their advice I arranged for the after hours doctor to visit to check her over.

He arrived within the hour and upon seeing Isla, advised me to take her straight to hospital. He called ahead to let them know that we were coming. At this stage, her temperature was up around 39 degrees.

That night was horrible.

ADVERTISEMENT

As her temps climbed into the forties, doctors and nurses grew concerned. In order to rule out other nasty illnesses, they of course needed to take blood tests.

It took five doctors countless attempts to get a cannula in her tiny arms. Image: Supplied

That’s not such an easy task on a baby so young.

There is not a lot that can affect a mother like having to hold your child down while doctors try and try to locate veins in a three month olds hands and arms. I looked into my daughters scared little eyes, flooded with tears and let person after person jab her with needles.

It took hours because she was getting so distressed at each failed attempt that they had to stop. At one point she held her breath and turned herself blue in distress. I grabbed her and begged them to leave her alone. In a sterile hospital emergency room she just flopped into my arms, tears streaming down both of our cheeks.

Five doctors later, they were able to get a cannula into her tiny arms and could begin fluids to rehydrate her.

Isla went downhill over just a few hours. Image: Supplied
ADVERTISEMENT

Because the blood tests didn’t give much away at this point, I was advised that doctors needed to perform a lumbar puncture to rule out meningitis. I knew exactly what that meant because at 28 weeks pregnant with her, I went through the same thing. I (we) did in fact have meningitis so I prayed this would not be the case for my tiny girl. 

So, at 2am in a brightly lit emergency treatment room I sobbed into my t-shirt as I held my tiny 12 week old daughter in a ‘u’ shape so doctors could draw spinal fluid from her. She fought me, as you would, and so a nurse came and took over so I could drop sucrose water into her mouth in an attempt to calm her. Every time she screamed, I squeezed more and more in hoping that it had the sedative affect the staff kept telling me it would.

She looked at me with fear and tears in her eyes. Image: Supplied

I willed myself not to be sick because I had to be strong for her. A scared little newborn, I had to try and show her that she would be ok. I knew of course it needed to be done so that the medical team could work out exactly what was wrong with her so I battled with my head feeling light and my stomach uneasy.

When the results came back, doctors started telling me about parecheovirus. All of her symptoms fit the bill.

We spent the next week in hospital. Isla fighting against temperatures well into the forties. Me, acutely aware that these kind of numbers were in the scary category; potentially causing seizures and brain damage. My poor husband at home worried sick and holding down the fort with our sons.

The rash came within the next day and took over her whole body. I’ve never seen anything like it. Red dots everywhere.

The rash was unlike anything I had seen. It was everywhere. Image: Supplied
ADVERTISEMENT

For five days we stayed, doctors pumping fluids and four kinds of antibiotics (as a precaution- final spinal fluid tests were not back from the lab) through her tiny body.

Thankfully my baby girl recovered and was back with us at home after about a week. We were so lucky that there was no long term damage, as I know the virus has the potential to be life changing.

For me, our experience was yet another reminder of how easily virus’ can spread and how vulnerable our little ones really are. Adults with parecheovirus often display no symptoms but our little ones are not so fortunate.

While there is no vaccination for parecheovirus, it is spread by person to person contact or by coming in contact with a contaminated object. Therefore good hygiene is essential; washing hands regularly and not coughing or sneezing near others. 

Luckily Isla made a full recovery within a couple of weeks. Image: Supplied

Since the outbreak, doctors are urging parents not to be complacent when it comes to the health of young babies. My daughter went from a grizzly child, to a very sick little girl within the space of a few hours. When in doubt, always seek medical attention.

00:00 / ???