Enterovirus D68 prevention: Keep sick children at home

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An alarming virus, named Enterovirus D68, a non-polio enterovirus, has been spreading throughout the country and infecting children, particularly those with existing respiratory deficiencies such as asthma. This virus is scaring parents and putting the nation’s health care professionals on alert, and will likely stress the U.S. health care system until at least the end of November, when hopefully it will taper off as many viruses do. (It is uncertain whether this particular virus will taper off, but that is the hope). So far over 500 cases have been reported in 42 states.

What exactly is this virus, who is particularly at risk, and what steps can we take to combat this dangerous flu?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This strain of enterovirus is very serious, and may have mutated from another existing enterovirus, although this hasn’t been proven. Enteroviruses live in the patient’s GI tract, but express themselves with different symptoms in different parts of the body, depending on the strain. An enterovirus can be the cause of illnesses from gastroenteritis to the common cold, and there are more than 100 known varieties of enteroviruses in the world. Enterovirus D68 initially appeared in the 1960’s, and it is unclear why this strain has returned. Responding to inquiries as to whether this enterovirus could be linked to illegal immigrants in border camps, the Centers for Diseasse Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that it “didn’t know,” and this possibility has not been proven to be true thus far.

Parents of young children with asthma in infected geographical locations should take their children to the pediatrician if they show any symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, fever, body aches, runny nose, wheezing or difficulty breathing. Young children have little lung reserve, so early treatment is crucial. Four deaths have been blamed on this enterovirus so far, and — more puzzling and frightening — some paralysis is now occurring in nine children struggling with the virus. It was thought not to be a strain that has neurological implications, but now that is being more closely examined.

Early treatment is crucial. Additionally, although it seems too easy to be true, doctors are emphasizing that frequent and proper hand-washing (using soap, really washing hands and fingers and rinsing well) will be very beneficial in staying healthy. Also, it is very important that children with symptoms in towns and cities that are affected already by this virus stay home from school, to avoid passing it on to others.

When in doubt — sit the school day outfor your child’s sake, and for other children who may be at risk.

The CDC page for Enterovirus D68.