Human Enterovirus 68
You know about Flu (Influenza Virus) and RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) and Rhinoviruses that are associated with the common cold symptoms of sneezing, coughing, sore throat and mild fever. But Human Enterovirus 68 is making news headlines lately. What’s all this about?
Strains of Human Enterovirus circulate every year and typically cause mild illnesses in children and teenagers in the summer and fall. Enterovirus 68 is not common. A nationwide surveillance system received only 79 reports of Enterovirus 68 from 2009 to 2013. In 2014, for reasons still unclear at this time, Human Enterovirus 68 is causing an unusually large spike of respiratory illnesses and a large number of children that require more than routine care. Children with asthma seem to be particularly susceptible and suffer more debilitating symptoms; some requiring hospital admission to the Intensive Care Unit and the need for mechanical ventilation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, twelve states, including North Carolina, have reported cases of severe respiratory illness in children attributed to Human Enterovirus 68. The symptoms are those associated with “the common cold”, except that they are much more intense. The current outbreaks appear to be limited to children and teenagers. However, at this time, it is difficult to say just how big this outbreak is, how long it will go on or how widespread it will be. Every day brings more information; the situation is evolving quickly. Since late August, hospitals and primary care providers around the country have been deluged with coughing, wheezing and feverish children. A spike in respiratory illnesses is normally expected as schools get back into session. But this year’s spike is especially large and affected children are suffering from more severe symptoms.
There is no vaccine to prevent the virus or anti-viral medication to treat it. Patients have been successfully treated with asthma therapies, including oxygen and inhaled drugs to open the lungs.
So what is a parent to do? Prevention is still the best course. Like the flu, RSV and rhinoviruses, Human Enterovirus 68 is spread by droplets in the air. Parents should encourage children to cough and sneeze into their elbows. Use tissues to blow the nose and wipe nasal secretions. Encourage good hand-washing habits. Enteroviruses can also be spread via fecal matter, which again calls for good hand hygiene after diaper changes and bathroom visits.
While it is true that not every child who comes down with a runny nose, cough and fever needs medical treatment, recent events suggest that parents need to be a little more vigilant and attentive this year to these symptoms, especially if your child suffers from asthma. Begin asthma treatments early and closely monitor if symptoms are worsening instead of improving. Parents know their children best. If you suspect their symptoms are more severe than past infections, don’t wait an extra day to get them evaluated. Call our office at 910.892.1333, press Option 1, and have Bridget schedule an appointment for your child to see his/her provider.
This outbreak of illness attributed to Human Enterovirus 68 is just beginning. It is not clear how big or how severe it will eventually become. But ultimately, it is the care and well-being of YOUR child that is important to us. Don’t wait or hesitate to get us involved in his/her care. We are here to help.
Drs. Mary Ann and Vincent Chiodo