The Enterovirus 68, which has been plaguing children all over the country and was first reported in the Midwest earlier this summer, is not a new virus. In a recent report, authorities from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discussed what else the population needs to know about the respiratory virus sending children to the hospital.
The first cluster of cases of infection from the rare virus sent several children to the emergency room with respiratory difficulties. Some have even died, but doctors are not certain whether it’s because of the Enterovirus 68 or other underlying conditions.
Enterovirus 68 is an uncommon strain of non-polio family of viruses that typically hit from summertime through autumn. The virus can cause mild cold-like symptoms including runny noses, coughing, and wheezing, according to health authorities.
On Friday, the CDC released a report about the Colorado cluster, which answers some questions about the rapidly expanding virus, according to the AP. In the account, very useful information was shared with parents regarding all the media reports and speculation about Enterovirus 68.
First and foremost, this is not a new virus, as some believe. The CDC says the disease was first identified in the U.S. in 1962, and a relatively small number of cases have been reported since 1987.
“Because it’s not routinely tested for, it may have spread widely in previous years without being identified in people who just seemed to have a cold. It’s one of a group of viruses that contribute to an uptick in cold-like illnesses every year around the start of school.
“In August, the virus got more attention when hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago had many children with trouble breathing. Some needed oxygen or more extreme care such as a breathing machine. Tests found Enterovirus 68.”
Out of the 538 people in 43 states and the District of Columbia who have been infected, almost all are children, the CDC says. However, officials add that many more may be suffering from Enterovirus 68. The testing, which has been focused on very ill children, is limited at this time, and therefore many other cases may not have been reported, including those in adults.
Even though Enterovirus 68 has been around for decades, children have not been exposed to it, and their immune system is less likely to have the opportunity to build resistance to the bug. Children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, are more vulnerable to the respiratory condition.
According to the CDC officials, the mystery is why so many cases of Enterovirus 68 have been reported this year and not in prior years.
“Health officials have not found a recent mutation or other change in the virus that would cause it to become more dangerous. Clusters have been reported in other countries, including some Asia nations and the Netherlands, in recent years.”
Regarding the report this week that four of those infected with Enterovirus 68 had died last month, the CDC says it is unclear what role the germ played in the deaths.
“Investigators are trying to sort out if the viral infection was coincidental, a contributing factor or a main cause. One case was a 10-year-old Rhode Island girl who died last week after infections of bacteria and Enterovirus 68. Rhode Island health officials suggested the bacteria — Staphylococcus aureus — and the virus may have formed a rare and deadly combination, but the investigation continues.”
There have also been reports that nine children were sent to a Denver hospital with paralysis-like weakness in their limbs, neck, and back about a week after symptoms of fever and respiratory problems were reported. The number of kids with similar symptoms is now 10.
“Four of the children tested positive for Enterovirus 68. But health officials don’t know whether the virus caused any of the children’s arm and leg weaknesses or whether it’s just a germ they coincidentally picked up.”
The CDC sent an alert to doctors regarding these symptoms, and is asking they report anyone under the age of 21 who presents a similar condition since August 1. This includes people who had an MRI which “showed abnormalities in the nerve tissue in the spinal cord.” Since the alert was sent out, many new cases have been reported, but the CDC is still investigating.
So what can parents do to protect their children from the Enterovirus 68?
“The CDC recommends making sure children and their parents are up to date on all vaccinations, including those against respiratory diseases like flu, measles, and whooping cough. The other advice has to do with basic hygiene — wash hands frequently with soap and water, stay away from sick people and disinfect objects that a sick person has touched. See a doctor right away if your child starts having severe problems breathing, develops difficulty moving their limbs or walking or standing.”
In general, to prevent Enterovirus 68, people should follow the same instructions doctors recommend during any flu season, especially those suffering from asthma and other respiratory pre-existing conditions. While most cases have taken place in the Midwest, other states such as North and South Dakota are also bracing for an influx of the germ.
[Image via KFGO]