Coxsackie virus is a blanket term for a virus in the family Picornaviridae, part of a group of viruses known as enteroviruses which can cause a range of health conditions. There are numerous serotypes of Coxsackie virus, including the groups known as Coxsackie A and B. Like other enteroviruses, Coxsackie virus lives in the intestinal tract, and it is highly virulent, being readily passed between people with active viral infections. Many people are infected with a virus in this group at some point during their lives, and some people carry Coxsackie virus without experiencing any symptoms.
These viruses are named for a town in New York state where they were first discovered. They are passed between people when improper hygiene is observed, as for example in a daycare while children are not scrupulous about washing their hands after using the restroom. It can also spread through contaminated food and water. Most Coxsackie viruses are very contagious, but they rarely cause serious symptoms.
Most commonly, people experience what they refer to as the “stomach flu” when they are infected with a Coxsackie virus. They may have a mild fever, chills, diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting, and the condition resolves on its own within a few days. In some cases, people develop rashes, which can turn into hand, foot, and mouth disease, a condition which appears mostly in young children; hand, foot, and mouth is not the same, incidentally, as the animal disease known as foot and mouth or hoof and mouth. People can also develop herpangina, or sores in the mouth, along with hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eye.
More seriously, Coxsackie virus can enter the heart, where it can cause severe health problems. Viral infections of the heart can be tough to treat, and they may cause permanent damage or result in the need for a heart transplant to replace a badly damaged heart. These viruses can also lead to meningitis, a serious viral infection of the brain, and some studies have linked them with diabetes and other health conditions.
There is no cure or vaccination for Coxsackie virus infection. Many patients recover with supportive care to manage the pain or discomfort associated with the infection. In the event that a more serious infection emerges, the patient will usually need to be hospitalized to manage the infection and its symptoms. If a patient develops confusion, joint pain, dizziness, or an altered level of consciousness, it's time to see a doctor for serious medical attention.