On 5 May 2023, France reported an increase in cases of severe neonatal sepsis associated with enterovirus (Echovirus-11). A total of nine cases of neonatal sepsis with liver failure and multi-organ failure were reported between July 2022 and April 2023 at four hospitals in three regions of France. Seven of these cases have died and two remained hospitalized in the neonatal unit at the beginning of May.
Now, the team from the European Union and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) are working with all Member States to try to better understand whether, as surveillance has decreased, other cases are being missed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed the low risk to public health of the unusual increase in sepsis associated with this enterovirus in babies and says that "the main message is that we are not concerned."
"We reiterate that the risk of contagion from this recombination remains limited, but we call for increased surveillance," Abdi Rahman Mahamud, director of WHO's alert and response coordination department, told a news conference on Friday.
How the virus is transmitted
The executive director of the WHO's Emergencies Programme, Michael Ryan, has clarified that these viruses are often transmitted by the fecal-oral route. However, for neonates, there are other ways by which they can become infected, whether through the time of the birth canal, exposure to blood, exposure to caregivers and the hospital environment in general.
"Neonates are especially vulnerable, especially premature infants. So we have a vulnerable group exposed to these viruses and the outcomes for those children can be more severe. But for the vast majority, even of those children, the results are very positive, although in a small proportion it can lead to more serious problems."
These viruses target different organs, some causing encephalitis, others myocarditis or infection of the heart, and others can have effects on multiple organs.
At this point, he has insisted that "there is no cause to increase fear among people", since scientists are doing their job, they are detecting these events, they are sequencing them and they are studying the risk.
"It is a real tragedy for any family to lose a child at this time, after what could have been a very healthy pregnancy. We should think about those families and the losses they are suffering," he said, adding that they deserve "a greater understanding of these viruses, how they spread and how they cause what they cause."
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