If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably seen or heard stories about enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, a respiratory virus making its way around the country and sending kids to the intensive care unit. Scary, right?
Well, even though the virus is now being seen locally in Central Massachusetts, we want to help put your mind at ease while providing some helpful information about symptoms, who’s at risk, and what you can do to prevent this and other illnesses.
Enteroviruses as a group cause 10 to 15 million infections and illnesses each year. The vast majority of the time, they simply cause a mild fever that goes away in several days. In a very small number of instances, though, they can cause rash, viral meningitis, or rare complications such as pleurisy or pericarditis (an inflammation around the lung or heart).
What’s different this year is that enterovirus D68 is causing more respiratory symptoms. In addition, the availability of new diagnostic tests make it easier to identify the infection, and this year’s relatively large outbreak has drawn the attention of infectious disease experts. According to the CDC, as of late September, there were about 220 cases in 32 states, although it’s likely that there have been many more mild infections uncounted.
As with many viruses, EV-D68 can be a bit hard to differentiate from the common cold or other respiratory illness. Typically, it causes mild to moderate symptoms, with fever, cough and runny nose in otherwise healthy children 6 months to 16 years, or in adults.
Children with immunity issues or a history of asthma or pulmonary disease, however, are at higher risk for more serious illness, including wheezing and difficulty breathing. Most of the children who have been admitted to ICUs during this current outbreak have had preexisting breathing problems.
If you or your child has asthma, make sure you:
- Practice good hand hygiene and avoid people who are showing signs of illness.
- Review and update your care plan with your doctor, your child’s school nurse and other caregivers.
- Take medications as directed, particularly maintenance or long-term medications.
- Keep rescue/relief medications like inhalers on hand and know how to use them.
- If breathing becomes difficult at any time, contact your doctor, go to the emergency room or call 911.
It’s all about keeping clean, as this infographic shows.
According to the CDC, enterovirus germs are spread through close person-to-person contact and through coughing, sneezing and poor hand hygiene. Germs can survive on surfaces for several hours or as long as a full day.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If you can’t, sneeze into the crook of your elbow to prevent spraying germs widely.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Wash for at least 20 seconds and use a clean paper towel or your elbow (not your newly cleaned hands) to turn off the faucet. Hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water.
- Don’t touch your face or eyes with unwashed hands.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, including doorknobs, toys, tables and countertops. Don’t forget iPods, cell phones and video game controls, too.
- Avoid close contact: Hard as it might be, avoid hugging and kissing. Show TLC in other ways until everyone is well again.
- If you’re sick, stay home to avoid spreading illness at work or school.
Your family physician or pediatrician is your best source of advice if you’re concerned about EV-D68 or any illness.
And remember, flu season is coming—and each year the flu poses a more serious risk to more people. Watch for flu clinics in your area and get vaccinated. Will you and your children get vaccinated?