Just six days after Stasiya was born, Stefanie Vasquez of Olathe knew something was wrong with her new baby girl.
Stasiya wasn’t interested in eating. She had a hard time staying awake. She made whimpering sounds.
“Every time I picked her up, she cried like she was in pain,” Vasquez said.
When Vasquez took Stasiya to her pediatrician last week, the infant’s temperature was 102 degrees and her pulse was racing at 255. An ambulance was called to rush her to the intensive care unit at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
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Stasiya was diagnosed with human parechovirus, HPeV3 in medical shorthand, a commonplace illness among children that can take a dangerous turn into meningitis when infants, particularly newborns like Stasiya, are infected.
So far this year, Children’s Mercy has treated about 20 cases, Mary Anne Jackson, the hospital’s chief of infectious diseases, said Wednesday.
“It’s a pretty typical year for an outbreak,” she said.
But what makes this summer unusual here, Jackson said, has been the number of cases among the youngest of infants and the appearance of severe cases with meningitis.
“We haven’t seen that before (at Children’s Mercy),” Jackson said.
Such severe cases in infants, which may include seizures and changes in brain scans, have been reported previously at hospitals in other places, she said.
Six of the HPeV3 cases at Children’s Mercy have been among infants 14 days old or younger, the largest annual number since the hospital began studying the virus about five years ago, Jackson said. Three infants have had severe meningitis.
Jackson said all the infants have been recovering: “They look like they have meningitis, and in two to four days they’re well and at home.”
Human parechoviruses have probably always been around, Jackson said. But in the past they were lumped together with enteroviruses, a group of viruses that cause a variety of maladies, including meningitis. During the past decade, researchers, many of them at Children’s Mercy, have delved into the viruses’ genetics and identified parechoviruses as a separate category.
Jackson said the viruses circulate all year but are most prevalent during the summer and fall. They’re passed through coughs and sneezes and are common throughout the community. Symptoms may include fever, irritability and rash. In most cases, children, except for infants, don’t become ill.
And because few kids practice good hand hygiene or cough etiquette — and may remain infectious for weeks — the viruses can spread widely. The Kansas City area probably will see more cases for the next month or two, Jackson said.
Shawnee Mission Medical Center, where Stasiya was born, was among the first hospitals to report to Kansas health officials that it was seeing the infections among infants. The hospital said Wednesday that four infants born there have become ill with HPeV3.
Vasquez said doctors told her that Stasiya could have gotten the virus at the hospital or from other members of her family, including her brother, Jorge, who’s 21/2 years old, or her father, Jorge Sr.
After being taken to the hospital, Stasiya spent her first 24 hours at Children’s Mercy in intensive care. Doctors did a spinal tap and took urine and blood samples. They gave Stasiya intravenous fluids and started her on antibiotics, in case she had a dangerous bacterial (rather than viral) meningitis infection.
“It was a scary time,” Vasquez said. “All these tests and not knowing what was going on.”
A couple of days later, tests showed that Stasiya had HPeV3. By then, she had begun to recover.
“She was opening her eyes and waking up and eating. She became a baby again,” Vasquez said.
On Sunday, she went home healthy.
“She’s doing amazing.”