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What parents should know about Enterovirus D68, causing alarm in the Midwest

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(CNN) — A respiratory virus that has sent hundreds of children to hospitals in Missouri is causing alarm across the Midwest and beyond.

Ten states have contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help investigating clusters of the virus that’s being blamed for the illness.

Health officials say they’re still figuring out what’s going on.

The bug that appears to be causing most of the concern has a typically arcane name — Enterovirus (EV) D68 — but many of its symptoms are very common.

Here’s what you need to know about the virus.

What are enteroviruses?

Enteroviruses, which bring on symptoms like a very intense cold, aren’t unusual. They’re actually very common.

When you have a bad summer cold, often what you have is an enterovirus, said Mark Pallansch, a virologist and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Viral Diseases.

There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses causing about 10 to 15 million infections in the United States each year, according to the CDC. They are carried in the intestinal tract and often spread to other parts of the body.

The season often hits its peak in September, as summer ends and fall begins.

So why all the concern now?

What’s unusual at the moment is the high number of hospitalizations.

The virus has sent more than 30 children a day to a Kansas City, Missouri, hospital, where about 15% of the youngsters were placed in intensive care, officials said.

“It’s worse in terms of scope of critically ill children who require intensive care. I would call it unprecedented,” said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a director for infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital, where about 475 children were recently treated.

“I’ve practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” she said.

What’s special about this particular type of enterovirus?

An analysis by the CDC showed at least 30 of the Kansas City children tested positive for EV-D68, Missouri health officials said.

It’s a type of enterovirus that’s uncommon, but not new.

It was first identified in the 1960s and there have been fewer than 100 reported cases since that time. But it’s possible, Pallansch said, that the relatively low number of reports might be because EV-D68 is hard to identify.

EV-D68 was seen last year in the United States and this year in various parts of the world. Over the years, clusters have been reported in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona and various countries including the Philippines, Japan and the Netherlands.

Experts say they don’t know why it’s flared up this time around.

“Why one virus or another crops up in one part of the country or another part of the country from one year to the next is inexplicable,” said William Schaffner, head of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University. “It’s a mystery to me.”

What are the symptoms?

The virus can start as just a cold. Signs include coughing, difficulty breathing and in some cases a rash. Sometimes they can be accompanied by fever or wheezing.

Respiratory problems appear to the hallmark of EV-D68, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

“Most enteroviruses cause either a little bit of a cold or a diarrheal illness — a few cause meningitis,” said Schaffner. “This one is the, if you will, odd cousin. It causes prominent respiratory symptoms. Why it does that, we’re really not sure.”

How serious is it?

The good news is that enteroviruses usually aren’t deadly.

“All of these folks are going to get better,” said Schaffner. “Some of them have more severe illness, such as these children who have developed asthma and are hospitalized. But they should all get better.”

Many of the EV-D68 infections “will be mild and self-limited, requiring only symptomatic treatment,” the Missouri health agency said.

Some cases could, in theory, contribute to death, but none of the Missouri cases have resulted in death and no data are available for overall morbidity and mortality from the virus in the United States, the agency said.

How widespread are the cases?

Beyond the surge in infections in Missouri, there are signs of a possible regional outbreak of EV-D68.

Colorado, Illinois and Ohio are reporting cases with similar symptoms and are awaiting testing results, according to officials and CNN affiliates in those states.

The 10 states that have reached out to the CDC for assistance are Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

The unusually high number of hospitalizations reported now could be “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases,” said Pallansch of the CDC.

What can be done to prevent it?

Like other enteroviruses, the respiratory illness appears to spread through close contact with infected people. That makes children more susceptible.

There’s not a great deal you can do, health officials say, beyond taking commonsense steps to reduce the risk.

Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds — particularly after going to the bathroom and changing diapers.

Clean and disinfect surfaces that are regularly touched by different people, such as toys and doorknobs.

Avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick. And stay home if you feel unwell.

There’s no vaccine for EV-D68.

CLICK HERE for more information on Enterovirus D68 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CLICK HERE for more stories about Enterovirus D68 on FOX6Now.com

6 comments

  • Amanda

    Why is it spreading so fast? Everyone would like to know that, my opinion is that employers now that say that they are family friendly aren’t really. Some companies, even if you do take yourself or your kid to the doctor, you still get “points” and after a certain amount of those, you lose your job. Parents that are on the verge of losing their jobs due to their children getting sick in day care or school are not willing to keep their children out and risk losing that income. Parents are seriously now stuck between a rock and a hard place when making decisions like that. Do you take the chance of losing half of your family’s income to be out with a sick child and keep the sickness from spreading to other children? or do you risk sending them to school, letting them get other kids sick then get a call half way through the day to come and get them or sometimes maybe the school or day care won’t catch it and worst case, your kid spreads it around the school and that’s part of where the outbreaks come from. If the government is warning about going into work sick and if you are showing certain symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice you shouldn’t be at work but I can’t count how many times I was working as a manager at a restaurant, would call my district manager and let him know that I was throwing up and still had to go to work in the food service industry. Honestly, there are some policies that the government has implemented like FMLA to assist with issues like this, but you have to be on the job for a year before you even qualify. My son is not even 2 yet, he has been sick at LEAST once a month from being at day care and I just now qualified to apply for FMLA, because of this, I have 1 point left until I lose my job. I would hate to see how fast something like ebola will spread. Nobody respond about the article that was posted a while back asking why Americans are so scared, the reason I say that is ebola is passed through saliva, what do toddlers and babies do in day care? Put things in their mouth, they don’t care if the kid right beside them stuck it in their diaper, they will still put it in their mouth and if ONE has ebola or any other illness, ALL of them will get it.

    • Laura Blair

      We definitely DO need to change FMLA eligibility equirements to start at hiring date, not one year after. All I can say is write your Congressman, and be a well-informed voter.

  • VeryGoodGirl

    The average child’s immune system is too busy fighting off all of the chemical additives in food and water to do it’s job, and most lack proper nutrition.Learn about the food industry and you’ll stop getting sick!

  • UnhappyCitizen

    Why is this spreading so fast? 60,000+++ illegal immigrant children from Central America that crossed into the U.S. illegally that showed no signs of being diseased that were diseased then put on tour buses and dumped into States are now attending our school system, that’s how. This administration has been warned over and over to secure our southern border. Before they went on vacation/recess the House passed a $694 million dollar pay package deal to secure our border yet nothing has been done to secure our southern border by the Senate nor our President. Now our children suffer. Secure our southern border Mr. President, NOW.

    • Katie Van Winkle

      Are those illegal kids in Canada too? Because a lot of Canadian kids are getting sick. Instead of feeding the hate frenzy regarding children seeking asylum or reunion with their parents, how about we focus on why a respiratory virus is placing kids in the hospital. (A virus, which by the way has NOT resulted in any deaths.) Could it be because of our predilection antibiotics? Could it be because far too many children in this country have asthma and allergies? Could it be because we overload our children’s immune systems with vaccines and other suppressants instead of allowing them to become sick and fight off diseases? Could it be because we have chosen to raise families in unhealthy environments because we prefer to allow toxic wastes, plastics, and cheap stuff from China dominate our culture?

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