What is an enterovirus?

An enterovirus is a very common type of virus. There are many types of enteroviruses. Most of them cause only mild illness. Infections most often occur in the summer and fall. The viruses mostly cause illness in babies, children, and teens. This is because most adults have already had enteroviruses and have built up immunity.

The viruses usually don’t cause symptoms, or cause only mild symptoms. Enteroviruses often cause what is known as the “summer flu.” They can also cause a rash known as hand, foot, and mouth disease. This is also known as coxsackievirus, a type of enterovirus.

But in some cases, an enterovirus can be more severe and cause complications. Some of the viruses can cause serious illness, such as polio. Polio is a rare illness that causes muscle paralysis. A type of enterovirus called echovirus can cause inflammation of the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Enterovirus 68 can cause severe symptoms in some children, such as trouble breathing.

Sick girl with thermometer in her mouth

What are the symptoms of an enterovirus?

In most cases, enteroviruses don’t cause symptoms. If they do, the symptoms are mild. Most symptoms usually go away in a few days and can include:

  • Fever

  • Muscle aches

  • Sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Trouble breathing

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Red sores in the mouth, and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (hand, foot, and mouth disease)

  • Red rash over large areas of the body

What are possible complications from an enterovirus?

In some cases, enteroviruses can cause severe problems:

  • Inflammation of the brain (encephalitis)

  • Inflammation of the tissues around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis)

  • Inflammation of the liver (hepatitis)

  • An eye infection (conjunctivitis)

  • Severe illness in the lungs

  • Paralysis of muscles

How is an enterovirus diagnosed?

A health care provider will ask about your child’s medical history and symptoms. Your child will be given a physical exam. This may include an exam of the mouth, eyes, and skin. The health care provider will listen to your child’s chest as he or she breathes.

In the case of severe symptoms, certain tests may be done. These are done to see if your child has an enterovirus, or has a different kind of illness. The tests can look for problems in the heart, lungs, and brain. The tests may include:

  • Virus culture. A small sample of saliva, blood, urine, or stool is taken. It is then tested for a virus.

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A small sample of blood, urine, or saliva is taken. The sample is tested for a virus.

  • Spinal fluid test. A small sample of spinal fluid is taken. This is done by putting a small needle into your child's back. The fluid is tested for levels of certain chemicals and cells.

  • Blood test. Blood is taken from a vein. It is then tested for chemicals that may show the cause of your illness, or show organ problems.

  • X-rays. These use a small amount of radiation to create images. X-rays may be done of the chest to look at the lungs and heart.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test uses sticky electrodes stuck to the chest and wires that lead to a machine. The test is done to look at the electrical action of the heart.

  • Echocardiogram. This test uses sound waves and a computer to look at the structure and movements of the heart.

How is an enterovirus treated?

No antiviral medication is available to help cure an enterovirus infection. Instead, treatment is done to help your child feel better while his or her body fights the illness. This includes:

  • Pain medications. These include acetaminophen and ibuprofen. They are used to help ease pain and reduce fever. Do not give aspirin to your child if he or she has a fever.

  • Oral anesthetic. This is a gel used to help ease the pain of sores in the mouth.

  • Bed rest. This helps your child’s body fight the illness.

  • Change in diet. If your child has painful mouth sores, give only bland, soft foods. Do not give your child salty or crunchy foods.

In severe cases, treatment may be:

  • Opioid medication for severe pain

  • Medication for heart problems

  • Giving fluids through an IV

  • Medication called immunoglobulin given through an IV

Symptoms such as muscle aches, fever, and sore throat usually go away in a few days. The red sores known as hand, foot, and mouth disease usually go away in 7 to 10 days.

Girl at a sink showing off her soapy hands

How can you prevent illness from an enterovirus?

Children are vaccinated against poliovirus. But there is no vaccine for other enteroviruses. Enteroviruses can spread easily from person to person. They are spread through stool and mucus from coughing or sneezing. They can live on surfaces that sick people have touched, coughed, or sneezed near. To help prevent illness:

  • Teach children to wash their hands after using the toilet, before eating, and before touching their eyes, mouth, or nose. Singing the Happy Birthday song twice or their favorite song while they wash hands will take just about the right amount of time. 

  • Wash your hands often, especially if caring for someone who is sick. Use a hand sanitizer if you don't have soap and water handy. 

  • Try to have less contact with people who are sick.

  • Clean surfaces at home regularly with disinfectant.


When to call a health care provider

Call a health care provider right away if your child has:

  • Fever of 102°F (38.8°C) or higher, or 100.4°F (38°C) in a baby younger than 3 months

  • Severe headache that doesn't get better after taking a pain reliever

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain when breathing

  • Confusion

  • Seizures

  • Pain, swelling, and redness of the eyes

  • Stiffness and trouble moving

  • Yellow tint to the skin and eyes