As you’ve probably seen in the news, and perhaps in some stories making the rounds on social media, a respiratory illness has sent a few hundred children to the hospital in the midwest. Because some of these news stories have been sensationalized (almost to the point of being irresponsible), and because we know many of you will have questions and concerns, we wanted to give you some good, clear information…
These respiratory illnesses have been caused by Enterovirus 68, a virus from a family including coxsackie (which causes Hand-Foot-Mouth disease) and Polio viruses. It can occur year-round, but is especially prevalent in the Summer and Fall seasons.
Enterovirus can be spread from close person-to-person contact through coughing, sneezing, or touching — not airborne, but through close contact with an infected person and direct exposure to secretions. It’s primarlly spread through direct contact with feces (after diaper changing or soiling), or through indirect routes such as contaminated food, water, or fomites (molecules that stay on hard surfaces after someone with the virus touches that surface).
There are many serotypes of enterovirus (with different numbering). Some are more serious than others. Enteroviruses can cause a wide range of symptoms. Some people may have no symptoms, some may have a flu-like illness with fever or a rash, or even meningitis. (It’s worth noting that this is also true of the influenza virus.)
Enterovirus 68, specifically, may cause more respiratory distress in susceptible individuals (children under 5 years old, immune-compromised patients, and any individual with asthma or another lung/breathing disorder). In some rare instances, this virus has also been known to cause polio-like symptoms with partial paralysis — most recently during an outbreak in California in 2012-13.
In most cases, the virus in self-limited, and no specific therapy is required other then rest and fluids. In instances where a patient may have respiratory distress (breathing fast; wheezing; using extra muscles to breath, when you can notice the ribs prominently during breathing), he or she should be evaluated by a medical professional.
The best prevention, as with most illnesses like this, is common-sense infection control through simple hygiene measures: hand washing with soap and water, using hand sanitizer if available, and covering mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing (use the elbow!).
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, give us a call in the office any time.
Dr. Jennifer Zarit is a former Kids Plus provider.