What is enterovirus? Warning as babies in Wales test positive

A number of babies in Wales have tested positive for enterovirus. (Gigin Krishnan/Unsplash)
A number of babies in Wales have tested positive for enterovirus. (Gigin Krishnan/Unsplash)

Enteroviruses, a usually mild type of virus, has been given as the cause behind one baby dying and another seven being put into intensive care in south Wales.

The virus group is prevalent worldwide and can be in the form of respiratory illnesses but 90 per cent of those infected have no or non-specific symptoms.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it had detected an unusual rise in myocarditis cases among newborns in south Wales last year, with the peak month being November. Patients who had this inflammation of the heart had all shown signs of enteroviruses. Between June 2022 and March five babies in England also tested positive.

Before the latest cases, south Wales had only seen two instances in six years. But in the 10 months to April 2023 10 cases of myocarditis were reported in newborns.

What are enteroviruses?

Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a number of infectious illnesses, which are usually mild, the UK Health Security Agency said on Thursday.

“However if they infect the central nervous system, they can cause serious illnesses like meningitis or acute flaccid paralysis,” the agency added.

The viruses can be respiratory but also cause polio and hand, foot and mouth disease. They can spread to other vital organs including the liver, bone marrow and heart.

The United Nations’ health agency added: “[They can cause] occasional outbreaks in which an unusually high proportion of patients develop clinical disease, sometimes with serious and fatal consequences – in this instance myocarditis.”

How are enteroviruses spread and what are the symptoms?

The viruses are commonly passed on by transference of bodily fluids and can be prevented by good hygiene.

Usually enteroviruses are undetected as a cause but can present themselves as a fever, cough, skin rash or muscle aches.

They can be caught by anyone and children under 10 are more at risk of serious illness.