Enteroviruses are everywhere and are ready to infect us with mild diseases such as the common cold and HFMD or much more serious diseases that can permanently damage the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.
What is an enterovirus?
Enteroviruses are a large group of very common viruses that cause a variety of diseases, some of which cause serious and illness while some cause little or no illness. Probably the most famous enteroviruses are the polioviruses which cause poliomyelitis and the rhinoviruses which often cause the common cold. Over 100 different enteroviruses have been found to infect humans. For the purpose of this story, we will focus on the human enterovirus 71 that have been common in Asia and often causing serious illness (illnesses such as hand, foot, and mouth disease ; HFMD) over the last few years.
When are enterovirus (HFMD) epidemics most likely to occur?
In Asia, we can experience epidemics of enterovirus infections at almost any time of the year. However, the majority of enteroviruses cases occur from May through September of each year but exact timing can be quite variable. The severity of the outbreaks each season also can vary and often depends on the particular strain of enteroviruses that is most prevalent in the population along with many other variables. Unfortunately, there is no predictable pattern for when enteroviruses will cause infections, illnesses and epidemics.
Wash your hands often to help prevent an enterovirus outbreak.
How does HFMD spread among humans?
Enteroviruses can be transmitted from infected individuals to healthy individuals in a variety of different ways depending on the enteroviruses strain and exact symptoms caused by the infection. Infected individuals can shed enteroviruses in the secretions from eyes, nose and mouth, in feces and in fluid from skin blisters. A healthy individual can be infected by having close contact with an infected person or objects that have been in contact with or near an infected person. Being exposed to sneezes, coughs, shaking hands along with touching contaminated doorknobs and light switches can result in infection by enteroviruses. Changing the diapers of an infected infant or even drinking contaminated water can all result in transmission of enteroviruses to healthy individuals.
What are the clinical symptoms of enterovirus infections?
Fortunately, the majority of individuals who become infected with enteroviruses do not become ill or they suffer only mild illness. Symptoms of these mild illnesses caused by enteroviruses include: fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, skin rashes, blisters in and around the mouth and on hands along with muscle and body aches. These symptoms, typically go away on their own in a few weeks. However, it should be noted that people who are infected but showing no symptoms or only mild symptoms still shed infectious virus particles that will easily infect others.
Unfortunately, some enteroviruses infections result in very serious symptoms and complications such as conjunctivitis (eyes), meningitis and encephalitis (spinal cord and brain), myocarditis and pericarditis (heart), acute paralysis and progressive muscle weakness. Individuals with severe infections that affect the heart and brain can have permanent damage and may never recover. In extreme cases, death can even occur!
How do we prevent and cure enterovirus (HFMD)?
At this time there is no known cure for enteroviruses infections. Unlike bacteria, enteroviruses and all other viruses are not susceptible to antibiotics. The only treatment options are supportive care such as rest and analgesics for pain and fever. Most infected individuals usually recover completely on their own. However, some enterovirus infections can be severe enough to require hospitalization and even critical care.
Prevention is the best way to fight enteroviruses infections. There are vaccines that are effective against certain enteroviruses such as the polioviruses. However, because there are so many different non-polio enteroviruses along with the fact that they can mutate rapidly, medical science has not yet been able to develop widely available vaccines against the vast majority of non-polio enteroviruses. Currently, the best ways to prevent enterovirus infections and disease are to avoid contact with the viruses and to maintain a strong immune system. Ways to avoid contact with the viruses includes staying away from infected individuals, wearing face masks, practicing good hand washing technique and disinfecting items that have come in contact with infected individuals. In addition to avoiding contact with enterovirus, International Journal of Medical Research reports that the activity of lactoferrin helps prevent enterovirus 71 infection (HFMD).
A balanced immune system not only helps you prevent being infected but will also allow you to recover more quickly with fewer or even no symptoms. The best ways to develop and maintain a strong immune system are to have a healthy lifestyle by: eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and getting enough sleep.