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Picornavirus-Overview Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Larry I Lutwick, MD; Chief Editor: Mark R Wallace, MD, FACP, FIDSA  more...
Updated: Dec 17, 2014


The following summary intends to cover general clinical symptomatology for major members of the Picornaviridae family.

  • Enteroviral infection symptoms[29]
    • Poliovirus: Manifestations of infection range from inapparent illness to severe paralysis and death.
    • Abortive poliomyelitis virus infection is characterized by 2-3 days of fever, headache, sore throat, listlessness, anorexia, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Findings of neurologic examination are normal.
    • Nonparalytic poliomyelitis differs is similar to the abortive form but produces meningeal irritation.
    • Spinal paralytic poliomyelitis has a biphasic course. The minor illness coinciding with viremia corresponds to the symptoms of abortive polio and lasts 1-3 days. The patient then appears to be recovering and remains symptom-free for 2-5 days before the abrupt onset of the major illness. Meningitis is the preparalytic symptom of the major illness. Meningismus and accompanying muscle pain are generally present for 1-2 days before frank weakness and paralysis ensue. The paralysis is flaccid, asymmetric in distribution. Proximal muscles of the extremities tend to be more involved than distal muscles; the legs are more commonly involved than the arms.
    • Bulbar paralytic poliomyelitis consists of paralysis of muscle groups innervated by cranial nerves, especially those of the soft palate and pharynx, resulting in dysphagia, nasal speech, and some dyspnea.
    • Polioencephalitis is characterized by disturbances of consciousness, occurring predominantly in infants. This condition is the only type of poliomyelitis in which seizures are common.
  • Systemic infections caused by enteroviruses other than polioviruses[27]
    • CNS: Enterovirus 71 is a prominent cause of CNS infections, including encephalitis.[30]
    • Heart: Coxsackievirus B in particular causes acute myocarditis and pericarditis.
    • Skeletal muscles: Pleurodynia (Bornholm disease) is also usually caused by coxsackievirus B and is characterized by fever and severe pain in the chest. If the diaphragm is involved, severe pain develops in the abdomen. Symptoms last for a few days to 2 weeks and resolve without ill effects. Individuals who develop myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), another syndrome, have few, if any, physical signs, but many symptoms develop. The most prominent symptoms include fatigue, following even minor physical activity, and depressive psychological illness.
    • Skin and mucous membranes: Enteroviral infections of these tissues are caused almost entirely by coxsackievirus A. Rashes may accompany infections of other systems. Herpangina is a painful infection of the pharynx with herpeslike features (eg, vesicles of the soft palate, fauces, uvula, posterior wall of the pharynx). The infection resolves spontaneously in a few days. In hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) unrelated to the FMD of cattle, vesicles and ulcers develop in the anterior part of the mouth, followed by a vesicular rash on the hands and feet.[31]
    • Conjunctiva: Infection is characterized by subconjunctival hemorrhage, severe pain in the eyes, photophobia, and occasional keratitis. Coxsackievirus A24 and echovirus 70 are the main causes of this infection.
  • Rhinoviruses[14, 32, 33]
    • Rhinoviruses produce the common cold, which usually lasts no more than 7 days.
    • In most cases, rhinorrhea and nasal obstruction are the most prominent complaints.
    • The throat is frequently sore or scratchy. Cough and hoarseness occur in 33% of all cases.
  • Hepatitis A[24]
    • HAV has an incubation period of 2-6 weeks, with an average of 28 days. Many infections are silent, particularly in small children.
    • Clinical illness usually starts in a few days, with symptoms of malaise, anorexia, vague abdominal discomfort, and fever. Later, the urine becomes dark and the feces appear pale.
    • Soon afterwards, jaundice appears, first in the sclera and then in the skin; if severe, itching may accompany these symptoms. The patient starts to feel better within the next week or so, and the jaundice disappears within a month.


Physical examination findings depend on the infection, and a given virus and strain can produce variable symptoms in different patients.[24, 14, 29, 27]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Larry I Lutwick, MD Professor of Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical School; Director, Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus

Larry I Lutwick, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Charles V Sanders, MD Edgar Hull Professor and Chairman, Department of Internal Medicine, Professor of Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, Louisiana State University School of Medicine at New Orleans; Medical Director, Medicine Hospital Center, Charity Hospital and Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans; Consulting Staff, Ochsner Medical Center

Charles V Sanders, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, The Foundation for AIDS Research, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, Southwestern Association of Clinical Microbiology, Association of Professors of Medicine, Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, American Clinical and Climatological Association, Infectious Disease Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology, Orleans Parish Medical Society, Southeastern Clinical Club, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Alpha Omega Alpha, American Association of University Professors, American Association for Physician Leadership, American Federation for Medical Research, American Geriatrics Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Thoracic Society, American Venereal Disease Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Association of American Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Royal Society of Medicine, Sigma Xi, Society of General Internal Medicine, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Received royalty from Baxter International for other.

Chief Editor

Mark R Wallace, MD, FACP, FIDSA Clinical Professor of Medicine, Florida State University College of Medicine; Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Central Florida College of Medicine

Mark R Wallace, MD, FACP, FIDSA is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, International AIDS Society, Florida Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

John M Leedom, MD Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

John M Leedom, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, International AIDS Society, Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Yana Bron, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Pediatrics, Linden Children Services Inc

Yana Bron, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Informatics Association, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert L Holmes, DO Major, Medical Corps, US Air Force, Medical Director of Infectious Diseases, Chair, Infection Control Review Function, Associate Program Director, Internal Medicine Residency Training Program, Keesler Medical Center

Robert L Holmes, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physician Executives, American Osteopathic Association, American Society for Microbiology, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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