A concerning number of cases of the rare respiratory virus enterovirus D68 are being reported in children across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cases have been found in Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Unlike many other viruses, enterovirus D68 is not accompanied by a cough or fever. The main symptom is severe trouble breathing. Roxanna Fernandes, Chief Nursing Officer at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesot, recounted to the Star Tribune how one patient described his symptoms.
“One little boy about 6 years old told me it was like having an elephant sitting on his chest,” Fernandes said. “And so when you’re having that much trouble breathing, we really want you to be here.”
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Although some strands of the enterovirus are common, enterovirus D68 cases are rarely reported. Until this year, few cases of the virus had been confirmed since it was isolated in California in 1962. Most adults are immune to the virus, but children can spread the illness amongst themselves.
Dr. Steve Turkovich, chief medical officer at the Woman and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, New York, says parents should monitor their children closely for changes in breathing.
“You look at how fast they’re breathing, how many muscles they’re using to help them breathe, how well they’re moving air. In kids that can speak, you want to ask them questions and see if they can still speak in full sentences, or are. They. Talking. Like. This. Sort of thing,” Dr. Turkovich said.
Though the virus requires medical attention, it is typically not fatal. No deaths have been reported from this year’s outbreak.
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As for prevention, the Red Cross says hygiene is key. Here are nine things the Red Cross says people, and especiall children, should do to slow the virus’s spread:
- Avoid sharing objects such as utensils, cups, and bottles.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands afterwards. If tissue-less, cough or sneeze into your elbow or upper arm, not into your hands.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth to keep germs from entering your body.
- Proper and consistent hand washing is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of flu. Teach kids by example by showing them proper hand washing technique:
- Wet hands with water and apply an amount of soap recommended by the manufacturer to hands.
- Rub hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and giving added attention to fingernails and surfaces where jewelry is worn.
- Rinse hands with water.
- Dry thoroughly with a disposable towel.
- Use towel to turn off faucets.