What Are the Symptoms of Enterovirus?

What exactly are enteroviruses—mild viruses that cause cold or flu-like symptoms—and should you be worried about when and if the next outbreak strikes? Health spoke to an infectious disease expert to find out.

During the summer and fall of 2014, a severe respiratory illness struck approximately 1,400 people across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost all confirmed cases were children, primarily those with asthma or a history of wheezing.

The culprit turned out to be enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), one of more than 100 types of non-polio enteroviruses causing mild to severe respiratory illness. Although, in some cases, the virus causes no symptoms. And while the 2014 outbreak made headlines, there have been others since, including in 2016, 2018, and 2020 according to the CDC.

What Is Enterovirus?

There are more than 100 enteroviruses. Examples of enteroviruses include EV-D68 and polio. According to the CDC, other than polio, most enteroviruses are known as non-polio enteroviruses, which cause 10 to 15 million infections in the United States yearly, especially during the summer and fall months.

"Enterovirus loves the fall," Frank Esper, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, told Health. "When the leaves are changing, and the kids are in school, that's when enterovirus season is."

Those illnesses are common in infants, children, and adolescents since they haven't built up an immunity to enteroviruses, but adults can also become infected.

Symptoms of Enterovirus

According to an article published in 2015 in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, most enteroviruses are related to rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold. Although some people who contract an enterovirus are asymptomatic, others develop mild cold symptoms that naturally subside.

According to the CDC, symptoms of a mild to severe non-polio enterovirus illness include: 

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Skin rash
  • Mouth blisters
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing

In some cases, enteroviruses can also lead to infections—hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) being one of the most common among infants and children under five. HFMD causes blistering on the fingers, mouth, and feet. 

While HFMD can seem scary for a parent, it's "a very benign infection—usually [it's] what happens when small children get enterovirus for the first time," explained Dr. Esper.

Other severe, although extremely rare, enterovirus infections include viral conjunctivitis (eye infection), viral meningitis (infection of the covering of the spinal cord or brain), and viral encephalitis (infection of the brain), among others.

"There are certain types [of enterovirus] where it can cause really bad meningitis and encephalitis—and people die from that," noted Dr. Esper. 

How Is Enterovirus Treated?

Unfortunately, there's no treatment for enteroviruses on their own. But you can take steps to help yourself heal by managing symptoms—most of the time that includes staying hydrated, getting enough rest, and taking over-the-counter cold medicine as needed. 

"Generally, you wait for the patient's immune system to kick out the virus," explained Dr. Esper.

But, according to the CDC, severe cases may require hospitalization. If you or someone you love starts having difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider immediately or get emergency care.

How To Avoid Contracting Enterovirus

You can also take steps to prevent you or someone you love from contracting enteroviruses. Since they're spread through close contact with an infected person or by touching surfaces that an infected person has touched, you can reduce your risk by practicing hand hygiene

According to the CDC, you should avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. Also, the CDC recommends disinfecting your home, especially surfaces people frequently touch, like doorknobs and kitchen counters.

If you're sick, you should avoid hugging, kissing, or having other close contact with people. It would help if you also cover your coughs and sneezes with your upper shirt sleeve or tissue (not your hand) and stay home while you're sick.


It can be challenging to avoid enterovirus, especially since some people can be asymptomatic and unwittingly pass it on. However, regularly practicing good hand hygiene and other healthy habits can go a long way.

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