Bornholm disease

Bornholm disease is an uncommon viral infection of the intercostal muscles, which join the ribs together. Sometimes, the lining of the lungs is affected too.

Key Information

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What should I do?

If you think you or your child have this condition, you should see a doctor within 24 hours.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor might diagnose epidemic pleurodynia based on your symptoms and physical examination findings.

What is the treatment?

There is no specific treatment for epidemic pleurodynia. It usually clears by itself in a few days. You might consider taking non-prescription painkillers to help relieve the pain; these are not recommended, however, for children under the age of 16. Treatment in children should be specifically prescribed by your doctor.

When to worry?

If you or your child develop any of the following symptoms then you should see a doctor immediately:

  • severe breathlessness
  • unable to talk due to breathlessness
  • severe chest pain
  • breathlessness and fainting
  • coughing up blood.

Bornholm disease is an uncommon viral infection of the intercostal muscles, which join the ribs together. Sometimes, the lining of the lungs is affected too.

The condition is sometimes known as pleurodynia, or epidemic pleurodynia.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of Bornholm disease is severe stabbing chest pain, which is often made worse by deep breathing, coughing, or sudden movements. The pain tends to come and go, with episodes lasting 15-30 minutes.

Bornholm disease sometimes also causes tummy pain, fever, headache, sore throat, and muscle pain.

These symptoms usually start suddenly and persist for several days before going away, without the need for treatment. However, they may return.

Who is at risk?

Bornholm disease mainly affects children and young adults (under the age of 30).

It usually occurs in epidemics, in settings such as schools or nurseries, and more often during the summer and autumn.

How is the infection caught?

Bornholm disease is caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses, mainly the Coxsackie B virus.

It spreads via the faecal-oral route; traces of contaminated faeces (poo) reaching the mouth. Less commonly, it can be spread via respiratory droplets, in much the same way as the common cold.

The viruses are found in faeces and in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes. Hands, water, or food can become contaminated, and respiratory droplets hang suspended in the air before falling to contaminate surfaces. Anyone who touches these surfaces can spread the virus by touching something else.

People usually become infected by picking up the virus on their hands from contaminated objects (such as a nappy or toilet) and then placing their hands in their mouth, by drinking contaminated water, or by breathing in the virus if it is suspended in the air.

This is why it's important to wash hands properly and avoid sharing utensils if you have been infected with the virus, or if someone close to you has Bornholm disease.

Newborn babies

It is possible for an infected mother to pass the virus on to her newborn baby. Infection in newborns varies in severity – some babies will not have any symptoms, while some may have a severe or even fatal illness.

Babies with severe illness may benefit from immunoglobulin treatment.

Can it be treated?

There's no specific treatment for Bornholm disease. The infection usually clears up by itself after about a week.

Because it is caused by a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can often help ease any pain, sore throat and a high temperature, but remember that aspirin should not be given to children under the age of 16.

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