Factsheet about enteroviruses
Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a number of infectious illnesses which are usually mild. However if they infect the central nervous system, they can cause serious illness. The two most common ones are echovirus and coxsackievirus, but there are several others. Enteroviruses also cause polio and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).
The vast majority of people infected with enteroviruses—over 90%—will either have no symptoms or have non-specific symptoms, such as sudden fever. A wide range of symptoms can be caused by enteroviruses but most often include fever, mild respiratory symptoms, flu-like illness with fever and muscle aches, fever with a rash and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Most illnesses caused by enteroviruses are mild but more severe diseases can sometimes develop in certain patients, including brain and heart conditions, pneumonia and hepatitis. Also, the viruses can spread to other organs such as the spleen, liver, bone marrow, skin and heart.
Ways to catch enteroviruses
Enteroviruses are most commonly spread either by coming into contact with secretions, like saliva, sputum or mucus, from an infected person or with their faeces.
People most at risk
Enteroviruses are the most prevalent viruses in the world. Anyone can develop symptomatic illness caused by enteroviruses, but children, particularly those younger than 10-years-old, are most likely to be infected. People most likely to develop more severe disease are those with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, newborns or premature babies, and people who have cold stress or malnutrition.
Enteroviruses are usually diagnosed clinically by a doctor judging a patient’s symptoms to see if they have one of these viruses. However, laboratory tests on some samples from patients can help to detect enteroviruses in more severe cases.
Most patients with enterovirus infection recover uneventfully. Treatment is usually supportive, aimed at relieving symptoms and making sure people keep hydrated. People with more serious infections will need more intensive support. Antibiotics are only given if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected alongside the enterovirus.
How to avoid getting enteroviruses
There are currently no vaccines against enteroviruses except polio. Good hygiene practices, such as frequent hand-washing, are essential to reducing the risk of becoming infected.
Note: The information contained in this factsheet is intended for the purpose of general information and should not be used as a substitute for the individual expertise and judgement of healthcare professionals.
Related disease information
Disease / public health area
Poliomyelitis, also known as polio or infantile paralysis, is a vaccine-preventable systemic viral infection affecting the motor neurons of the central nervous system (CNS). Historically, it has been a major cause of mortality, acute paralysis and lifelong disabilities but large scale immunisation programmes have eliminated polio from most areas of the world.