What Is Parainfluenza?
Parainfluenza refers to a group of viruses called the human
parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs). There are four viruses in this group, and each
one causes different symptoms and illnesses. All forms of HPIV cause an
infection in either the upper or lower respiratory area of the body.
Symptoms of HPIVs are similar to those of the common cold. When
cases are mild, the viruses are often misdiagnosed. Most healthy people
infected with an HPIV recover with no treatment. On the other hand, a person
with a weakened immune system is at risk for developing a serious and
What Are the Types of Parainfluenza Viruses?
There are four different types of HPIV. Although they all cause a
respiratory infection, the exact type of infection, the symptoms, and the
location of the infection depend on the type of virus you have. The four types
of HPIV can infect anyone.
HPIV-1 is the leading cause of croup in children. Croup is a
swelling near the vocal cords and in other parts of the upper respiratory
system. According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPIV-1 is responsible for
biennial outbreaks of croup in the autumn. In the United States, the outbreaks
tend to be more widespread in odd-numbered years.
HPIV-2 also causes croup in children, but doctors detect it much
less often than HPIV-1. It’s seen mostly in the autumn but to a lesser degree
An infection by HPIV-3 is mostly associated with pneumonia and
bronchiolitis, which is a swelling in the airways that leads to the lungs. It
causes infections largely in the spring and early summer, but it appears in people
throughout the year.
There two subtypes of HPIV-4 are HPIV-4A and HPIV-4B. HPIV-4 is
rarely included in screening panels for acute respiratory infections. This
omission may be making it hard to understand its prevalence and its role in
serious respiratory infections. Any pattern in HPIV-4 outbreaks is currently
How Is Parainfluenza Transmitted?
An HPIV can infect you in a few ways. An HPIV can survive on a
hard surface for up to 10 hours. If you touch a contaminated surface with your
hands and then touch your nose or mouth, you can become infected. The viruses
can also infect you through droplets or close contact with an infected person. It
usually takes between two and seven days after infection for symptoms to occur.
What Are the Symptoms of Parainfluenza?
Common symptoms of the four types of HPIV are very similar to
those of the common cold. They include:
- runny nose
- stuffy nose
- chest pain
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- general difficulty breathing
Most often, the symptoms of parainfluenza viruses aren’t severe
enough to cause concern in healthy adults. They can, however, be
life-threatening in an infant, older persons, or anyone else with a compromised
or weakened immune system. If you have HPIV symptoms, you should see a doctor
or go to the emergency room.
How Is Parainfluenza Diagnosed?
In most cases, your doctor won’t bother to diagnose your
particular HPIV. Because healthy adults can recover normally without any
treatment, there’s no need for an exact diagnosis. If, however, you have a
compromised immune system, your doctor may want to confirm that you have a
Your doctor may simply do a physical exam to determine if your
symptoms match those of HPIVs. For a more accurate diagnosis, your doctor may
take a throat or nose swab to detect the presence of a virus and to identify it
in a cell culture. Your doctor can also diagnose a specific virus by detecting
antigens that your body has made to fight the virus.
Your doctor may order a chest X-ray or a CT scan of your chest.
These are both imaging techniques that allow your doctor to see what’s
happening in your respiratory system. They can help your doctor determine the
extent of symptoms and whether or not you have complications such as pneumonia.
What Are the Treatments for Parainfluenza?
There’s no treatment that can eliminate HPIV from the body. When
infected with HPIV, you just have to let it run its course.
Symptoms, however, can be treated with over-the-counter
medications like saline nose drops and analgesics like aspirin or
acetaminophen. Don’t give aspirin to a child or teenager who has a fever and a
viral infection. When given as treatment for a viral illness, aspirin has been
associated with Reye’s syndrome, a serious and potentially deadly disorder.
How Can I Prevent Parainfluenza?
There are steps you can take to prevent infection with an HPIV. You
should wash your hands regularly and disinfect surfaces that can harbor the
viruses. Avoiding close contact with infected people can also lower your risk
of becoming infected. There’s currently no vaccine that prevents HPIVs.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for
An HPIV isn’t a serious illness for most people. The symptoms can
be very uncomfortable for several days, but as long as your immune system is
functioning properly, you should be able to fight off the infection.
The following people are at an increased risk of an HPIV
- very young children
- older persons
- anyone with a weakened immune system
With medical treatment,
however, recover is possible.