You’ve likely seen news reports about a virus that is sending children to the hospital with severe respiratory illness, and worried about what you can do to protect your family. Here’s what you need to know.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently identified the likely cause of these illnesses as the rarely reported Enterorvirus D68 (EV-D68). An outbreak of respiratory illness believed to be caused by EV-D68 is sending hundreds of children to the hospital and impacting children in a number of states including: Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Unusual cases of severe respiratory illness were first reported to the CDC last month.
There is no specific treatment for Enterovirus D68, so it’s important to be aware of its symptoms and make sure that you and your family practice good hygiene to avoid getting the virus.
EV-D68 belongs to a very common family of viruses – enteroviruses – of which there are more than 100 different types. Every year, enteroviruses cause an estimated 10 to 15 million infections in the United States. Enteroviruses usually cause mild respiratory illness, fever, rash, and in severe cases, swelling of the brain and spinal cord. EV-D68 appears to primarily cause respiratory illness, although its full symptoms are still unclear.
In a report of severe cases published by the CDC, children with the virus ranged from 6 weeks of age to 16 years-old. All children had difficulty breathing, and many had a history of previous wheezing or asthma while very few had a fever.
EV-D68 can be found in respiratory secretions, and the virus is likely spread from person to person when someone who is infected coughs, sneezes, or touches surfaces. For this reason, you can best protect yourself and your family by taking the following precautions:
• Wash hands frequently and thoroughly.
• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who are sick.
• Disinfect surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs.
There is no specific treatment for EV-D68 infection, and there is no vaccine to prevent illness. It is possible for anyone to become infected with EV-D68, however, many infections are likely mild and require only treatment of symptoms. Infants, children, and teenagers are more likely to develop serious illness because they do not yet have immunity from previous exposures to the virus. This is likely also true for people with weakened immune systems.
As with most viruses, prevention and awareness are key to keeping them at bay. While enterovirus infections historically hit their peak in September, it’s not clear whether EV-D68 infection will follow a similar pattern.
There is no need to panic about this virus, but there is reason to be cautious. The best thing do is to keep an eye on your family, and to make sure that if your child is not feeling well they get their symptoms checked by a professional.
A family doctor by training, Dr. Michael Jaeger is the managing medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin.