What Are Signs and Symptoms of Coxsackievirus Infection?
Most coxsackievirus infections are mild and may not even cause symptoms. The virus is one cause of the common cold or a generalized mildly erythematous (red) rash, especially seen in the summer months. It may also cause diarrhea or a sore throat that is similar to strep throat.
There are some more severe syndromes caused by the virus, but these are less common. They include meningitis (an infection of the linings of the spinal cord and brain), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), pleurodynia (chest pain), and myopericarditis (inflammation of the heart). Infection of newborns may be particularly severe. These syndromes are described below.
It is common for the coxsackievirus to cause a febrile upper respiratory tract infection with sore throat and/or a runny nose. Some patients have a cough resembling bronchitis. Less commonly, coxsackievirus may cause pneumonia.
Some people with coxsackievirus have a rash. In many, this is a nonspecific generalized red rash or clusters of fine red spots. The rash may not appear until the infection has started to get better. Although it may resemble a light sunburn, the rash does not peel. The rash itself is not contagious.
The virus may also cause small, tender blisters and red spots on the palms, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth. In the mouth, sores occur on the tongue, gums, and cheek. This condition is known as hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) and is caused by group A coxsackievirus. HFMD is most common in children under 10 years of age. HFMD usually causes a sore throat, fever, and the characteristic blister rash described above. It is mild and resolves on its own. While the blister fluid is a theoretical source of transmission of the virus, the large majority of those infected develop HFMD from contact with respiratory droplets or stool exposure.
Coxsackievirus also may cause a syndrome called herpangina in children. Herpangina presents with fever, sore throat, and small, tender blisters inside the mouth. It is more common in summer and is usually found among children 3-10 years of age. It may be confused with strep throat at first until test results for strep come back negative.
Eye Infection: Conjunctivitis
Acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis (AHC) presents with swollen eyelids and red hemorrhages in the whites of the eye. Usually, the infection spreads to the other eye as well. Affected people may feel like there is something in their eye or complain of burning pain. AHC may be caused by coxsackievirus, although it is more commonly caused by a related virus. Symptoms usually resolve in about a week.
Coxsackieviruses, especially those from group B, may cause viral meningitis (inflammation of the linings of the spinal cord and brain). Viral meningitis is also known as "aseptic meningitis" because routine cultures of the spinal fluid show no bacterial growth. This is because routine culture methods test for bacteria and not for viruses. Patients with aseptic meningitis complain of a headache and fever with mild neck stiffness. A rash may be present. In children, symptoms may be less specific, including change in personality or becoming lethargic. Febrile seizures may occur in children. Seizures are less common in adults, although adults may complain of fatigue that lasts for weeks after the meningitis resolves.
Less commonly, coxsackievirus may cause inflammation of the brain tissue (meningoencephalitis), as well. People with meningoencephalitis usually have fever and are lethargic or confused. Meningoencephalitis is more common in small children.
Weakness and Paralysis
Another rare symptom is weakness in an arm or leg or even partial paralysis. The symptoms are similar to, but milder than, those caused by poliomyelitis. Paralysis or weakness may follow a bout of AHC or may occur on its own. Weakness and paralysis caused by coxsackievirus usually are not permanent.