Much of the media was in a tizzy yesterday about a respiratory virus that's currently making life miserable for people in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere. Called Enterovirus EV-D68, it's a severe and uncommon bug, but it's not a mystery either. Here's what you need to know about the virus.

According to news reports, hundreds of children have been admitted to hospitals for treatment of the severe respiratory virus in Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky.

Advertisement

About 15% of the children had to be placed in intensive care. This virus, which has been known since the early 1960s, tends to peak around this time of year, but the current high rate of hospitalizations have caught healthcare officials off guard.

Advertisement

Credit: CNN.

To date, no deaths have been attributed to the outbreak.

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

Advertisement

"I've practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I've never seen anything quite like this," she said.

What is it?

Enterovirus EV-D68, though it sounds scary, tends to bring on symptoms like a very intense cold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that more than 100 types of enteroviruses exist, and that they cause around 10 to 15 million infections each year in the United States. The peak season for enteroviruses is September, though it is sometimes called a "summer cold" because it starts to spread earlier in the year.

Advertisement

To be fair, however, infections tend to a bit worse than a regular cold, as witnessed by the high rate of hospitalizations. The virus is making the news right now 1) because of the unprecedented levels of infections now sweeping through various parts of the U.S. and 2) because of the higher incidence of serious infections.

Specific symptoms include mild to severe respiratory illness, febrile rash, and even neurologic issues, such as aseptic meningitis and encephalitis.

"However, the full spectrum of EV-D68 illness is not well defined," notes the CDC.

Advertisement

How is it transmitted?

Because it's so rare, medical experts aren't entirely sure how it spreads. It causes respiratory problems, so the virus can be found in respiratory secretions such as saliva, nasal mucus, or sputum. It likely spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches contaminated surfaces.

Advertisement

How is it treated?

There's no specific treatment for EV-D68, nor are antiviral medications currently available, but most infections are mild, requiring only treatment of the symptoms. But for those people who develop severe respiratory illness, they may need to be hospitalized so that they can receive more intensive supportive therapy.

How can it be prevented?

Here's what the CDC recommends:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick

Advertisement

And no, there are no vaccines available.

Sources: CDC (1) (2) | CNN | Washington Post | Science Blogs

Top image: CDC.

Follow me on Twitter: @dvorsky

Advertisement