Enterovirus D68: The Other Virus

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Despite the national media attention about Ebola in recent weeks, there is one virus that is actually affecting Long Islanders, Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), with one of the first cases identified in North Hempstead on Sept. 18 and a recent case on Oct. 15 in Suffolk County, which school officials called for the closing of school, as a health precaution.

Dr. Charles Schleien, chairman of the department of pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said that although the enterovirus is still active, cases are dwindling on Long Island. According to Schleien, approximately 500 cases have been reported this season of enterovirus, at Cohen’s Children Medical Center, with two to six patients being admitted per day.

“It’s [enterovirus] typically mild and parents should treat it like they would any other cold or viral infection in their child,” said Schleien.

First identified in California in 1962, Enterovirus D68 has not been commonly reported in the U.S. Enteroviruses have several strains, similar to the way flu viruses do, and are transmitted through direct contact by someone or something already contaminated with the virus. Health officials say that there is no specific treatment for people with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68 other than management of symptoms. Mild symptoms of the illness may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body aches.

Within the next couple of weeks, the enterovirus season should be over, according to Peter Silver, MD, chief of pediatric critical care medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

“The biggest reason why we had such a record-breaking month was because of the enterovirus outbreak that has been going on across the country and has been in the Northeast for the past several weeks. In September, we admitted 68 children with enterovirus,” said Silver.

While Enterovirus D68 is not life-threatening, it does cause difficulty breathing, especially for children with asthma, said Schleien.  

Unless children are experiencing a medical emergency, he advises parents to bring children exhibiting symptoms of EV-D68 to their pediatrician or primary care physician rather than the emergency department.

Like other viruses, enterovirus is spread by close contact with infected individuals. With the new school year underway, this makes school-age children a prime candidate for the virus. Because of this, children under the age of 14 should not be visiting hospital nursery or neonatal units or areas where there are patients whose immune systems are weakened, Schleien said.

Some symptoms of the enterovirus include:

• Wheezing, especially if there is no previous history of this.

• Difficulty breathing

• Cough

The Health Department is now advising parents and health care providers to be aware of signs and symptoms of EV-D68, which causes a common cold-like illness — mostly among young children — and can, in rare cases, develop into severe upper respiratory illness, even possibly resulting in hospitalization. This virus appears to especially impact children with asthma and other underlying medical conditions.

The Nassau County Department of Health recommends the following steps to protect against EV-D68:

• Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.

• Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.

These prevention tips are especially important for individuals or persons with family members who are infants, or who have chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems. For more information on EV-D68, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).

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