Enterovirus-D68: What Parents Need to Know
Learn how to recognize the symptoms of this respiratory virus and what to do if your child has them
“Enterovirus.” It sounds like a deadly disease. In the vast majority of cases, it isn’t. Millions of kids get one form or another of enterovirus (there are more than 100 strains) every year, and it usually comes and goes without causing serious health problems. So how much should parents worry about outbreaks of enterovirus-D68? And how dangerous is it, really?
EV-D68 sickened more than 1,000 people — almost all of them infants, children and teens — in the fall of 2014, causing respiratory illnesses that ranged from mild to severe. Adults can get the virus too, but their symptoms are usually mild or nonexistent. Kids with asthma are most vulnerable to complications.
The good news is that in winter, infection with viruses like EV-D68 typically becomes less of a risk. But you still you want to be vigilant. Here’s what you need to know to keep your kids safe.
How kids catch it and what it looks like
The virus likely spreads — just like the flu — when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches a surface, such as a door knob or counter. The virus can then get picked up when someone else touches the surface or breathes in virus-laden air.
Mild symptoms include a fever, runny nose, cough, sneezing and all-over achiness. For most adults, that’s as bad as it gets. Severe symptoms can include asthma-like breathing problems, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Children, the elderly and people with a compromised immune system are most vulnerable.
In 2014 a handful of children who had symptoms similar to those caused by EV-68 developed muscle weakness or paralysis. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), none of the 10 kids in Colorado who were hospitalized with these problems had signs of EV-68 infection in their spinal and cerebral fluid, which would suggest that the virus was responsible for the paralysis. The relationship of EV-68 infection to the temporary paralysis remains a mystery. State and federal health officials are continuing to explore the connection.
EV-D68 can be diagnosed only with a blood test that is specific for this strain of enterovirus. Most doctors don’t have access to this test and, if they do, it can take weeks to get results. Fortunately, the CDC now has a new, faster lab test that can give feedback in days. However, the organization recommends that doctors consider sending a blood sample to the CDC for this test only when no other cause of the symptoms can be identified and the respiratory symptoms are severe.
How is EV-D68 treated?
For children or adults,if breathing becomes a problem, it’s time to go to the ER. Otherwise, chicken soup, blankets, a cold compress, and reading Dr. Seuss (even older kids and adults can use a laugh) before bedtime should work well.
Remember that kids under age 4 should not be given over-the-counter cough syrups or cough medicines according to the CDC.
An ounce of prevention
Remind your kids to wash their hands often and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when that’s not possible. They should keep their hands away from their mouth, nose and eyes if they haven’t recently washed them. It’s always smart to avoid hugging, kissing or sharing utensils with anyone who is ill.
At home, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards and table tops.
Don’t ask for antibiotics
If you’re tempted to ask your child’s doctor to give him antibiotics, don’t. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Their misuse contributes to the growth of antibiotic-resistant strains. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections according to the CDC. Taking antibiotics also can wipe out some of the “good” bacteria in the gut that helps keep us healthy.