In recent weeks, doctors at an Atlanta hospital have seen an alarming increase in the number of children they have treated for respiratory infections. According to a recent WMAZ article, the likely culprit is Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68. The first reported spike in EV-D68 cases occurred in August in Chicago and Kansas City.
Since then, thousands of children across 16 states have been affected. Doctors nationwide are very concerned about the widespread outbreak of EV-D68, a virus that usually strikes in clusters. They are also concerned about the severity of cases, many of which required hospitalization.
What is Human Enterovirus 68?
Although uncommon, EV-D68 has been around since the 1960s. EV-D68 belongs to a family of viruses called enteroviruses. Hepatitis A and polio are two well-known viruses that also belong to this family of viruses. According to the CDC, enteroviruses cause more than 10 million illnesses in Americans each year.
EV-D68 virus infects the gastrointestinal tract. It is spreads when children get feces on their hands (when using the bathroom and wiping), then unsuspectingly touching their mouths.
The virus is also spread through coughing and/or contact with individuals infected with the virus. EV-D68 can also live on surfaces like countertops or doorknobs. Babies, children and teenagers are at the greatest risk for enteroviruses, but adults can also contract the virus.
According to the CDC, symptoms of EV-D68 include body aches, coughing, fever, mouth blisters, runny nose, sneezing and wheezing. Doctors warn that children with asthma or allergies may be at a higher risk for serious illness.
In Denver, doctors reported cases where children who had no previous asthma symptoms were brought into the hospital for severe wheezing; this usually occurred after catching what was thought to be a cold. Some of the children required intensive care and breathing assistance from ventilators.
The son of one Denver woman had to be airlifted to the hospital. He woke up with a severe asthma attack that his asthma medication could not control. While many children have been sickened from EV-D68, no deaths have yet been reported.
What You Can Do
Currently there is no vaccine for Enterovirus D68, but you can try to minimize the risk of catching it. You can also stay proactive and monitor symptoms.
If your child with a runny nose suddenly develops a fever and has trouble breathing, take him or her to the ER immediately. If your child has a cold and you are concerned about EV-D68, doctors recommend calling your pediatrician before heading to an urgent care facility. They may likely be extremely busy in light of the outbreak.
Keep sick children at home from daycare or school, and preferably away from other children if possible, until the illness passes. Be vigilant about having every member of your household wash his or her hands frequently. Disinfect your children’s school supplies and cellphones. Wipe down surfaces and doorknobs–anything you have to touch.
You can learn more about EV-D68 at the CDC’s website.