girl sick in bed

A respiratory virus known as Enterovirus D68 has made its way to the Northeastern part of the US and infected and hospitalized hundreds of children in 21 states throughout the country. Previously, the virus had been confined to the Midwest and Southern parts of the U.S., however, it is suspected that the virus has recently reached New York, Connecticut, and other parts along the Northeastern region.

Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician at UPMC, focuses on emerging pathogens and pandemic preparedness. As speculation still swirls about confirmation of the virus’s arrival on the East Coast, Dr. Adalja notes that “It will be necessary to understand what’s going on with this virus now. Has it changed? Are those with asthma and related conditions the only ones experiencing serious problems? How many people have mild infections? These are all important questions that will need to be answered.”

What is Respiratory Virus Enterovirus D68? Why is it so bad now?

Enteroviruses are a family of viruses related to polio and often take root in the gastrointestinal tract but can spread to the central nervous system or other areas of the body.

Respiratory Virus Enterovirus D68 is a non-polio enterovirus that has been relatively uncommon in the United States. Its earliest known occurrence was in California in 1962. Because this particular strain has not been seen regularly, children today may not have built up an immunity to the virus.

Currently, the CDC is testing to confirm that the reported cases in New York and Connecticut are, in fact, Enterovirus D68. To date, there is no vaccine or treatment for the virus, but, doctors around the country have been treating afflicted children with a medicine typically used for kids with asthma to open up the children’s airways.

How Do I Prevent It?

Although there is currently no treatment for the Enterovirus D68, prevention can help contain its spread. This can be done by following the same rules to prevent the spread of colds, flu, and other airborne illnesses. Thoroughly washing your hands; avoiding sharing utensils, toys, or other items that can transmit germs; and staying home when sick can help prevent the virus from spreading. Children with asthma appear to be particularly susceptible to the virus.

How Do I Know if My Child Has Enterovirus D68?

Children who have Enterovirus D68 initially display symptoms of a common cold or asthma attack, such as sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. The symptoms gradually become more severe and can seem quite scary. Children with severe infections with Enterovirus D68 may have blueness around the lips, wheezing and shortness of breath, turn pale, and have difficulty eating and talking.

Is It Life Threatening?

In most cases, Enterovirus D68 is not fatal. It attacks children, but in rare cases, adults have come down with the virus. According to Dr. Adalja, 15 percent of confirmed cases have been admitted to hospital intensive care units, and hospitals are limiting visits to children who have been hospitalized. Children who have exhibited symptoms have typically been hospitalized between one and five days and given asthma medication and/or oxygen to treat the symptoms.

What Should I Do If I Think My Child Has the Virus?

If your child displays mild symptoms of the virus, they should stay home, get lots of rest, and get plenty of care from a parent or guardian. More serious cases that involve heavy, rapid, or labored breathing merit a trip to the doctor’s office or emergency room right away. Even if your child does not have a confirmed case of the virus, the symptoms can be treated immediately to help them breathe easier.