A to Z: Enterovirus

A to Z: Enterovirus

Enterovirus (EN-tuh-ro-vy-rus) is a term for viruses that live in the human digestive tract and cause a range of different symptoms, from mild to serious. Most cases do not cause serious harm and go away in just a few days.

More to Know

There are many kinds of enteroviruses, including coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, polioviruses, the hepatitis A virus, and others, such as enterovirus D68. These viruses are common and infect millions of Americans every year. They can infect anyone, but are more likely to cause illnesses in infants, children, and teens who haven’t developed immunity against the virus yet (from not being previously exposed to it), and people with weakened immune systems.

Most people who get infected with an enterovirus don’t get sick. When someone does get sick, symptoms include:

  • fever
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • breathing difficulty
  • muscle aches

Infections that spread beyond the digestive tract can cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, hemorrhagic conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye), and viral meningitis (an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord).

Recent outbreaks of enterovirus D68 in the United States have caused severe respiratory illness in some children and teens. In rare cases, enterovirus infections can lead to paralysis and infections of the brain (encephalitis) and heart (myocarditis).

Enteroviruses spread easily from person to person, usually on unwashed hands and surfaces contaminated by feces (poop), where they can live for several days.

There is no specific treatment for enterovirus infection other than relieving symptoms until the infection has run its course, which is usually not more than a few days.

Keep in Mind

Although enteroviruses can cause serious illness, enterovirus infections usually are mild. Most cause no symptoms at all. If symptoms are severe or last more than a few days, call a doctor right away.

Many enterovirus infections can be prevented by washing hands often, avoiding contact with sick people, and keeping household surfaces clean and disinfected.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.