Enterovirus D68 has been wreaking havoc across the country ever since August, when children began coming to emergency rooms with an illness that caused breathing problems so severe they were placed on ventilators in the NICU.
And it’s spreading fast.
“By Aug. 20, we were beyond our bed capacity,” Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, chief of the infectious diseases section at Children’s Mercy, said at the IDWeek meeting in Philadelphia.
Recently, two cases were reported in Tennessee. Both children were hospitalized, but have since recovered and been released.
Children across the country are contracting the illness, which may be responsible for five deaths so far. Although the children who died did have the virus, it is unknown at this time whether that specifically is what caused their deaths.
According to Jackson and Dr. Aaron Milstone of Johns Hopkins Children’s Centers, who discussed their findings concerning the disease with reporters last week, this is the largest outbreak of the virus ever recorded. The CDC has confirmed 664 cases, but there are believed to be many more unreported cases out there. “This is different this year, what we’re seeing,” Milstone said. “Something is different.”
It still remains unclear as to whether the virus has become more severe, or if it is simply spreading at a more rapid pace.
Doctors initially believed children who suffered from asthma to be more at risk, but this is no longer the case. One-third of the patients at Children’s Mercy had no history of respiratory issues. “If your child has ever wheezed in the past, get with your primary care physician to have an asthma action plan,” Jackson said.
The virus is most prevalent in midsummer to early fall, meaning that this year’s outbreak is already declining. Doctors suggest the best way to prevent the virus is to wash your hands, cover your coughs, and stay home when you’re sick. There is currently no vaccine.
Norovirus has also seen a recent widespread outbreak across the nation. Recently, a Chicago-area elementary school closed after over 1/4 of the student population fell sick with the virus. A recent report from FOX32 News said 129 students had contracted the virus. Cleaning crews were required to come in wearing masks and cleaning gloves, to scrub and disinfect the school before it could reopen.
The illness was not believed to have been caused by school lunch. A review of school records showed that less than 40% of the children who contracted the illness bought school lunch. Officials believe the outbreak started with a child or teacher who came to school sick.
According to the CDC, norovirus affects the stomach and intestines and is more often seen in children and the elderly.