Recognizing and Treating Enterovirus

Many people in the U.S. are now aware that a number of children have been hospitalized in Kansas City and Chicago with symptoms of a severe respiratory illness.

At the time this column was written, more than 500 people in the U.S. had tested positive for infection by Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68).

There is at least one reported case in nearly every state.

EV-D68 is not a new type of virus. Originally discovered in California in 1962, it belongs to a group of viruses called the non-polio enteroviruses (poliovirus makes up a different enterovirus branch).

This family with about 100 members is responsible for many of the summer colds that people catch. A group of these viruses comes around every summer and fall.

What is different about this summer and fall is that EV-D68 makes up a much larger proportion of these viruses than usual.

Infants, children and teens are more likely to have never had it before, so they tend to suffer more severe cases.

Symptoms of mild disease caused by EV-D68 can include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body aches.

Symptoms of severe disease include wheezing and respiratory distress. Not everyone with severe disease has fever, though.

Those children with asthma, including most of the children hospitalized in Kansas City and Chicago, are more at risk for the severe form of the disease.

Deaths from EV-D68 are rare but have occurred.

EV-D68 is spread to others through respiratory secretions by sneezing, coughing and contaminated hard surfaces.

Prevention includes frequent hand washing, disinfecting surfaces regularly and avoiding those who are ill.

Because EV-D68 is a virus, no specific treatment exists other than symptomatic relief with rest, liquids and appropriate over-the-counter medicines.

Children with asthma should make sure to use their medications as directed and have a plan in case symptoms worsen.

Those with severe wheezing or who otherwise are in respiratory distress may need to be hospitalized.

The cases of children hospitalized with EV-D68 have been overshadowed in the news by the arrival of Ebola virus in our country.

Ironically, EV-D68 is much more contagious and more likely to pose a threat to our children.

We can only hope that as the weather gets colder, this virus will go away and leave us alone.