Virus Spreads Through Midwest, Children Under 5 at Risk

A rare illness is making its way through the Midwest at the same time children are returning to school, according to a report from ABCNews.

Enterovirus D68, like other viruses, has the capability of spreading rapidly among students before they attack the rest of the population.  The CDC is already looking into hundreds of suspected cases. This infection presents itself like a common cold, and has the ability to get serious in a very short period of time.

Children most at risk are those with asthma.  It is thought that the virus spreads through contact with saliva, mucus, and feces.

“Every year we see the same thing: children return to school and enteroviruses circulate in the community,” said ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. “Because of this, it is very common for children to get back-to-school colds and other illnesses.”

First reported in Kansas and Missouri, suspected cases have been reported in Atlanta, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah.  Researchers at the University of Arizona discovered that it only takes 2-4 hours for the virus to travel from a contaminated door knob to 40% to 60% of an office population, as well as objects in the office.  The research was done using tracer viruses that are the same shape and size as the enterovirus.

Lead researcher Charles Gerba said that fingers are the best friend a virus ever had.  While adults touch their faces about 12 times an hour, two-year-olds touch their faces around 80 times an hour; five-year-olds touch their faces 60 times an hour.  The best way to reduce the spread of the virus is frequent hand-washing, especially before eating and after bathroom visits.  Soap and water is best, but hand sanitizers work well when soap and water are not available. Besser, says that if your child gets a cold and starts to wheeze, get medical attention right away.

Colorado is one of 10 states which have asked the CDC for help with the outbreak.  KMGH-TV, in Denver, adds that the illness is something like a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.  The typical progression is that a patient shows signs of rapid onset cold-like symptoms, then the patient is suddenly not able to breathe.  This strain of the enterovirus D68 is less common and unusually severe.

Gary Sky, spokesman for the Tri-County Health Department, said that he has been receiving many calls about preventing the spread of the virus.

“Basically, we’re telling people to treat it like influenza: Cover your cough, wash your hands often and stay at home if you’re sick to avoid spreading it to anyone else,” Sky said.

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma University Children’s Hospital has had 150 children in August with rhinovirus or enterovirus.  KOCO-TV  quotes Dr. Kristy Bradley, of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

“It is a virus that there is no specific treatment for, antibiotics will not help, there are no antiviral treatments like there are for combating influenza.”

At least one school in Oklahoma has closed because of the virus.  The OU Children’s Hospital says that children under five seem to be hit the hardest. The Oklahoma State Department of Health adds that they expect the virus to spread to most of the country during the next few weeks.

NBC News says that the virus was first identified in 1962 in a child who had pneumonia.  It is fairly unusual but does circulate and make kids sick.  If your child is not seriously ill, rest, fluids, and ibuprofen or acetaminophen for aches and fever, are the best courses of action.  Aspirin can cause a life-threatening side effect of Reye’s syndrome, and doctors do not recommend cough suppressants, since they usually do not help and can be dangerous.  A child who is having trouble breathing should be taken to the emergency room immediately.  The use of disinfectants such as quaternium wipes for desks, door knobs, and tables is a help.

Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, has treated 498 children for respiratory infection, most of whom were admitted to the hospital.  One of these children had to be moved to the intensive care unit.  Dennis Thompson of US News and World Report, the hospital’s division director for infectious diseases.

“We saw an unusually high number of children with respiratory viral disease that appeared to trigger asthma attacks,” Dr. Mary Anne Jackson said. About a third of the kids who suffered an asthma attack from the disease had never experienced asthma before, she said.