As American children head back to school from summer, a severe unidentified respiratory illness that has already sickened more than a thousand kids in 10 states is likely to sweep across America, doctors say.
ABC News reports, Sept. 7, 2014, that the disease hasn’t been officially identified but officials suspect a rare respiratory virus called human enterovirus 68 (HEV68). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is related to the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.
According to Mark Pallansch, director of the Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC, similar cases to the ones in Colorado have been cropping up across the U.S. At least 10 states — Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Georgia — have reported suspected outbreaks of human enterovirus 68 and requested CDC support.
The virus infection begins with cold symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, coughs, but watch out when your child starts wheezing.
Dr. Christine Nyquist, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the virus usually ends up appearing similar to a severe cold but can be particularly dangerous for children with asthma because of how it affects the respiratory system. “The kids are coming in with respiratory symptoms, their asthma is exacerbated,” Nyquist said. “Kids with no wheezing are having wheezing.”
At Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Dr. Raju Meyappan, a pediatric critical care physician, said he’s seen multiple children end up in the pediatric intensive care unit after being infected with the virus and that children under the age of 5 or those with asthma appear to be most at risk. In one particularly severe case, a 13-year-old asthmatic patient ended up in the emergency room just one day after showing basic cold-like symptoms, including cough and runny nose. His asthma became so severe on the second day the teenager turned blue and was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors gave him an emergency breathing tube. Patients who needed breathing tubes spent between 4 to 7 days sedated and intubated as they recovered.
To stay healthy, the CDC recommends basic sanitary practices to avoid spreading the virus, including washing hands, avoiding those who are sick, and covering the nose and mouth during sneezes or coughs.
Meyappan said parents of asthmatic children should make sure that their children’s inhalers are easily accessible and that there is a treatment plan in place if an asthma attack continues to get worse: “Make sure [parents] talk to all their caregivers about what to do if [the child has] an asthma attack and where to go if they need help. I think having a game plan in place helps.”
ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said, “Viruses don’t tend to respect borders. It is only 10 states now, but it’s going to be across the country. So if your state doesn’t have it now, watch for it, it’s coming.”
Doctors say they are not even sure yet how this particular virus spreads. Besser said, “This is a very common time for outbreaks. Kids come back to school, they like to share things, they bring them home to their little brothers and sisters, and enteroviruses tend to occur in the summer. But this one, this particular Enterovirus 68, is very rare and they have no idea why it showed up this year.”
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UPDATE (Oct. 3, 2014):
Not only have children been stricken with paralysis by this mysterious virus that doctors think is an enterovirus, now two ADULTS in Colorado have died from it. Read more here.