An alarming virus sweeping across America has parents concerned and health officials on high alert. Known as enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), the strain is one of more than a hundred non-polio enteroviruses that affect the respiratory system. To date, EV-D68 has been diagnosed in 600-plus children, spanning 45 states and Washington D.C.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a variety of enteroviruses circulate every year, and different strains of the virus can be common in different years. EV-D68 is more active during warmer months, particularly between August and September. The virus is transmitted through saliva, sputum and nasal mucus. It is contracted via direct contact with an infected individual or by touching a contaminated surface.
Mild symptoms of EV-D68 are usually similar to those of the flu or common cold, but if the illness progresses, it can cause life-threatening respiratory complications. In extreme circumstances, the virus can migrate from the lungs to the brain, leading to polio-like symptoms such as muscle weakness and paralysis.
EV-D68 is especially dangerous in young children, who account for the vast majority of diagnosed cases. Children with underlying respiratory conditions, such as asthma or reactive airway disease, have a greater risk of developing severe symptoms. Although EV-D68 can be dangerous and even deadly, the influenza virus poses a much bigger health threat to children every year.
Diagnosis and treatment
EV-D68 can be diagnosed by performing a lab test on samples collected from a patient’s nose and throat. While hospitals are able to screen for enteroviruses, most are unable to perform specific testing to determine which strain of enterovirus a patient might have.
There is currently no definitive cure or vaccine for EV-D68. The best method of treatment is supportive care to manage the symptoms as the immune system mounts a defense against the infection. Over-the-counter fever-reducers and medicines to treat respiratory infections can help alleviate the symptoms. Parents should closely monitor their child’s breathing and look for any signs of impaired muscular function. If symptoms become severe, the child may need to be hospitalized.
The best defense against EV-D68 is prevention. By regularly washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and keeping surfaces disinfected, the risk of contracting the illness is significantly reduced.
Most children who contract EV-D68 end up making a full recovery. The only death health officials have directly attributed to the virus is that of a 4-year-old boy named Eli Waller, who passed away in his sleep.
Tests have shown the virus was present in four other children who recently died; however, according to the CDC, it remains unclear whether EV-D68 was responsible.
After Eli’s death, his parents released the following statement:
We live in a community whose kindness and generosity seem beyond measure, a place for which my family will always be grateful; and in that spirit of giving back, my wife and I are proud to establish The First Day of School Foundation, dedicated to helping Special Education students and their families. Through the countless acts of generosity that so many people have provided, from cards and notes to food and furniture and everything in between, we have truly been able to realize some measure of healing. It is our sincere hope that people can see Eli and his story as an inspiration rather than a tragedy, as a moving forward rather than a clinging to, and as a positive reminder of just how incredible people really are. From here, we can only say thank you, and that we will do our best to pay things forward in a way that would make our son proud.
To learn more about the First Day of School Foundation, or to make a donation, click here.
For more information on enterovirus D68, visit the CDC website.