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What You Should Know about Enterovirus-68

|16, September 2014


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tracking what they call a rare virus which has been sweeping through the mid-section of the country, and now have reached New York as well. Friday, September 12, state health officials confirmed a dozen cases have been confirmed there.

Dr. Robert Glatter, of Lennox Hill in Manhattan says, "This is a very serious virus. The CDC said the cases seen so far are probably just the tip of the iceberg and that this epidemic will probably get worse before it gets better.

"It's unclear at this point why the virus has started to spread so quickly. Young children are developing it more than teens. But nothing so far explains the intensity or widespread nature of it."

According to the CDC, the virus was first identified in 1962, but had been considered rare. Why this outbreak is spreading so quickly and developing such serious symptoms in pediatric patients in still unknown.

As of September 11, the CDC has confirmed 84 cases in 6 states. Colorado has been the hardest hit, with one children's hospital in Denver reporting 199 pediatric patients with respiratory symptoms on September 8th alone.

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children spokeswoman Angie Anania stated, "Our physicians are seeing approximately seven times the normal number of respiratory virus cases than is normal for this time of year."

The virus, enterovirus-68 is a rare strain of the more common enterovirus. It is related to the rhinovirus, or the common cold, and symptoms are similar at the onset of the illness. It begins with coughing, runny nose and fever. Some people may have a cough for a couple of weeks. However, children with a history of asthma, wheezing or breathing problems are frequently being seen in emergency rooms with more severe symptoms. While no deaths have been reported, some children have ended up in intensive care. The treatment for enterovirus-68 is mostly management of symptoms, but some children have even required mechanical ventilation. There is no antiviral medicine to treat the illness.

The virus is spread much the way colds are, with the illness spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches a surface with contaminated hands.

National Jewish Health, the leading respiratory in the nation, located in Denver, Colorado offers these tips for avoiding the virus:

  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Keep your hands from your face.
  • Avoid overly-close contact with sick people, such as hugging, kissing or sharing eating utensils or drinks and food.
  • Avoid people showing signs of respiratory infections, such as coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not send sick children to school.
  • Disinfect surfaces likely to be contaminated by viruses, such as tables, toys, other surfaces and doorknobs, phones or computer keyboards.

For asthma patients, these more detailed instructions are important:

  • Take your maintenance medication, or daily controller medicines, faithfully.
  • Follow your asthma action plan, increasing rescue medications as needed.
  • If you don't have an asthma action plan, speak to your child's doctor to develop one.
  • If your child doesn't respond to rescue inhaler or medication, get your child to the doctor as soon as possible. If after office hours, go to the ER.

Dr. Glatter urges parents that if their children wheezing or a cough, take them to the emergency room right away.

When can your child return to school? When there has been no fever for at least 24 hours, the coughing has decreased significantly, and they feel well enough to attend a whole day of school and regular activities.

Know your child's asthma triggers such as allergens, cold air, exercise or stress. Try to protect your child from any of these triggers. Remind your child to wash hands frequently and demonstrate proper hand washing techniques. Many children don't lather up enough, or wash long enough. Remind them to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. Tell them never to share food or drinks with friends. Should your child develop symptoms consistent with the virus, seek medical attention. Due to the possible severe nature of the course of the virus, it's important not to delay diagnosis and treatment.

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