CDC: Enterovirus D68 found in four patients who have died

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(CNN) — Samples collected from four patients who recently died have tested positive for enterovirus D68, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is unclear what role the virus played in their deaths.

Enteroviruses are very common, especially in the late summer and early fall. The CDC estimates 10 to 15 million infections occur in the United States each year. So even though the samples from these four patients tested positive, the virus could have nothing to do with their deaths.

One of the patients, a child with a staph infection and enterovirus D68, was from Rhode Island, the state’s health department announced Wednesday.

The child died last week. Infection by both staph bacteria and an enterovirus is a “rare combination,” health officials say, that can cause very severe illnesses in children and adults.

“Only a very small portion of people who contract EV-D68 will experience problems beyond a runny nose and a low grade fever,” the Rhode Island Department of Health said in a statement. “Most viruses produce mild illnesses from which people are able to recover.”

This year, enterovirus D68 has been sending more children than usual to the hospital with severe respiratory illnesses. It seems to be most affecting children with a history of asthma or breathing problems. As of Wednesday, the CDC had confirmed 472 cases in 41 states.

The virus may also be linked to a small number of cases of a mysterious neurologic illness seen in Colorado, Boston and Michigan. Doctors in Colorado spotted it first — a group of 10 children hospitalized with limb weakness, cranial nerve dysfunction and abnormalities in their spinal gray matter.

Doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital have since identified four patients with the same symptoms. And a child in Washtenaw County, Michigan, also developed partial paralysis in the lower limbs after being hospitalized with the virus, the Michigan Department of Community Health said Wednesday.

Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria that commonly causes skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning. Most staph infections are easily treated with antibiotics, according to the National Institutes of Health, but some strains of the bacteria are resistant to these medications, making them harder to treat.

Antibiotic-resistant infections has been a big public health issue the past few years. In September, President Obama signed an executive order establishing a new interagency task force charged with developing a national strategy to combat these dangerous bacteria strains.

The Rhode Island Department of Health recommends parents and children follow these steps to prevention infection:

— Wash hands often with soap and warm water five or six times a day for at least 20 seconds.

— Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

— Make sure your child is taking asthma medications as prescribed.

— Disinfect toys, doorknobs, phones, computers and other surfaces often.

— Avoid close contact and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.

— Stay home if you are sick.

— Seek medical attention right away if your child is having trouble breathing.