Beware Medical Indifference - Parechovirus in Infants and Young Children

Published 29 Jan 2018

The first Australian cases of Parechovirus were reported in Sydney in 2013. Although the virus itself is relatively new to Australia, Parechovirus has been known to medical science since the 1950’s and has dozens of different strands (HPeV’s), all of which are a closely related to a large family of Enteroviruses, which cause commonly known diseases such as Polio.

Parechovirus typically has mild symptoms, and may well go undiagnosed. From time to time, however, outbreaks or epidemics occur that have more serious consequences. Several such outbreaks have occurred in recent years in Victoria (most of which were treated at Geelong University Hospital) and in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland (many of which were treated at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital).

The first few hours of dealing with a child with Parechovirus, or indeed any other virus capable of causing serious harm to a small child,  is a time of great apprehension and fear for parents. The symptoms include irritability, rash, fever, loss of appetite, and a change in colour to a grey/blue hue. Parents might watch a child deteriorate over time, not seeing any particular symptoms that cause immediate alarm, but slowly become more concerned as symptoms increase.

Once medical treatment is sought, if that be in the form of a midwife, GP or any other allied health professional not within a hospital, the proper response is urgent referral to hospital. If that doesn’t occur, a child may be unnecessarily exposed to the grave symptoms that can follow in the ordinary course of Parechovirus, such as seizures, respiratory failure and inflammation of the brain.

Parents may be greatly alarmed upon arriving at hospital with a child ill with Parechovirus to learn that even the specialist emergency team and paediatricians charged with treating their child cannot provide a diagnosis. Perhaps even more alarming is that even when such a diagnosis is made, after watching a child undergo a lumbar puncture and waiting 12 hours for the results, there is no cure for Parecho. However it does not follow that merely because there is no cure for Parechovirus that nothing can be done. The provision of proper and timely treatment is vital, and will save a child from long term consequences and disability.

What, then, is proper and timely treatment.  That will vary in the circumstances, and we must rely upon the specialist health professionals making decisions in each circumstance. But that does not mean that a concerned parent has no insight on such matters. One of the biggest risks to children showing early signs of Parechovirus is indifference and delay by a hospital or medical professionals.

One of the most important obligations upon the hospital will be to prevent apnoea (cessation of breathing) causing oxygen deficit and brain damage. If that means ventilating a child, or ensuring that the hospital is in a position to ventilate a child before apnoea occurs, then that is what should occur. However it does not always, and even in the midst of known outbreaks of Parechovirus, whether in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Geelong or Sydney, some children may still fall through the cracks and receive negligent, delayed or incomplete treatment. The consequences of receiving negligent treatment may well be life changing, and include brain injury and death.

If you, a family member or friend has contracted Parechovirus and suffered a permanent injury as a result, you might not have properly explored your rights on the misunderstanding that because it is such a rare and potentially serious illness, the hospital could not prevent injury. That assumption is probably incorrect, and you should seek legal advice promptly, noting that strict time limits apply to all claims for personal injury.

At Gerard Malouf and Partners Compensation Lawyers we have assisted thousands of injured people in your position. So feel free to contact Gerard Malouf and Partners Compensation Lawyers for a no obligation discussion of your circumstances by calling 1800 004 878 or complete our email enquiry form on the website.