Introduction 

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

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

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 to 30 minutes.

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

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

How the infection is spread

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

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

The viruses are found in faeces and the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when someone with the condition coughs or sneezes.

Hands, water or food can become contaminated by the virus. Respiratory droplets can also hang suspended in the air before falling to contaminate surfaces. Anyone who touches these surfaces can spread the virus by touching something else.

A person usually becomes 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.

Other ways the virus can be spread include drinking contaminated water and breathing in contaminated droplets from the air.

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

Newborn babies

It's possible for an infected mother to pass the virus on to her newborn baby. Infection in newborns varies in severity. Some babies won't have any symptoms, while others will have a severe or even fatal illness.

Babies with severe illness may benefit from immunoglobulin treatment. Advice should be sought from medical virologists (specialists in the treatment of viruses), infectious disease doctors, or the virus reference department (VRD).

Treating Bornholm disease

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

As the condition is caused by a viral infection, it can't be treated with antibiotics.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin shouldn't be given to children under the age of 16.

The main symptom of Bornholm disease is severe stabbing chest pain 

Who's at risk of Bornholm disease?

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

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

Page last reviewed: 10/09/2014

Next review due: 10/09/2016