As the fall season gradually begins to move towards winter, many parents are taking steps to prepare their kids for the cold months ahead. This includes bringing out warmer clothes, insisting on jackets and hats, and of course, preparing for the dreaded flu season. With the CDC estimating that as many as 20% of people in the United States contract this illness every year, some parents are taking no chances and ensuring that their children are vaccinated against the virus. However, the flu isn’t the only worrying sickness affecting children: a rare and typically mild virus is sending children in a number of cities in the U.S. to hospitals and urgent care centers for treatment.
Called enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, the illness first emerged in 1962 in a child with pneumonia. While the virus is unusual, some children do contract it. Adults are usually, but not always, immune. However, doctors and the CDC agree that EV-D68 is currently stronger and more common. Some viruses mutate into new strains, but the CDC’s laboratory staff have reportedly verified that the current outbreak was not caused by a new version.
EV-D68 has been reported in 12 states, including New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Missouri. The rising number of cases has some worrying that this might only be the beginning. Unfortunately, because viruses often resemble each other, medical clinics rarely test to determine what specific type a patient has, making it impossible to accurately determine the true number of cases. But while the CDC has not ruled the outbreak an epidemic, many of the new cases of EV-D68 have developed unusually severe symptoms, such as respiratory illness. Many viruses increase and decrease in intensity over time, and such waxing and waning is most likely responsible for the severity of this year’s cases.
Typically, the virus will cause normal cold-like symptoms. There is no vaccination that protects against EV-D68, and antibiotics have no effect. As a result, doctors are recommending that families wash their hands with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Common surfaces, such as tables and counters, should also be disinfected.
Because there is no set treatment for EV-D68, children with the virus should be allowed to rest and given fluids, as well as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease fever and aches if necessary. Aspirin should be avoided, as it can cause a life-threatening side effect known as Reye’s syndrome. Cough suppressants should also be avoided. Any questions can easily be answered at an urgent care clinic, which often treat nausea, dizziness, flu symptoms and even anxiety. However, if the child is wheezing or struggling for breath, they should be immediately be taken to an emergency room. Currently, no children have died after contracting the virus, but doctors have warned that children with asthma are most at risk.
Parents have also been instructed to keep their children out of school or daycare if they are showing signs of sickness. With so many children already experiencing the virus, this will prevent the sickness from spreading further. Any questions about a child’s state of health should immediately be brought to a doctor or urgent care center to prevent symptoms from worsening.