A rare virus has reemerged in the Midwest hospitalizing hundreds of kids and threatening to cause an epidemic, all before the start of the actual cold and flu season. Health officials warn that while the virus is not deadly, it is crowding intensive care units across the nation.
Known as Enterovirus EV-D68 (enterovirus 68), this strain is similar to the rhinovirus which causes the common cold. The illness is marked by severe respiratory distress, particularly in children under 10 years of age whose little airways can become narrowed, characterized by a wheezing noise.
Where have the worst cases been reported?
Currently, Colorado has been hit the worst with 900 cases treated at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver, and that’s just since mid-August. According to the CDC, nine other states including Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Georgia have all asked for assistance in treating this virus. Pediatric intensive care units are filling up, with the worst cases being reported in children who already suffer from asthma.
First identified in the 1960s, enterovirus 68 is rare but not new. In 2009 it made a small appearance in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona. What’s disconcerting is the number of cases confirmed this year alone, which already tops 1,000.
What are the symptoms and how can it be avoided?
The symptoms of enterovirus 68 are similar to those of a common cold including coughing, fever, wheezing and the inability to take a full breath. There are other strains of enterovirus, but the hallmark of this strain seems to be severe respiratory distress. The virus can be spread by saliva, mucous and even feces, so the best defense is to take a common sense approach including:
- Wash hands after using the bathroom (particularly a public restroom)
- Do not share food, straws or utensils with a person who is ill
- Wash hands after changing diapers
- Disinfect surfaces and items that are touched daily, particularly toys, tables, door knobs and counter tops
- Be thorough with hand washing by using soap and rubbing hands together for at least 20 seconds
There is no vaccine for enterovirus 68