Enterovirus infections are in the news and are causing a lot of parental anxiety. While enterovirus D-68 has caused some serious illness in children, especially in the midwest and now spreading to the northeastern states, you have to remember that there are many other children who handle this virus just like a bad cold.
Enteroviruses have been around for a long time...in fact polio is an enterovirus. But thankfully there is a vaccine for polio. The hundreds of other enteroviral infections continue to cause upper respiratory symptoms, viral meningitis, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. In most cases when you have many of these symptoms you don’t even think to “name the virus”.
Enterovirus D-68 was first reported in 1968 (so the name) but it was in 2008-2012 when it again began to be identified and was reported in the literature. Enteroviruses typically peak in late summer and early fall, so this is the time of year that we expect to see a peak in these infections.
The typical symptoms with a D-68 infection are upper respiratory with sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. Only about 25% of patients are even reporting a fever. In some cases, especially in children who have an underlying history of asthma or wheezing, there have been more severe symptoms with difficulty breathing, wheezing, and respiratory distress. In these instances the children have been admitted to the hospital for supportive care, which includes IV hydration, bronchodilator therapy, and supplemental oxygen. In some cases a child may require intensive care. Fortunately, there have not been any deaths associated with enterovirus D-68.
The bottom line? This is yet another respiratory illness that may cause more severe symptoms in some children. We also see this with other viruses such as RSV and flu which will be circulating later this fall and winter. What parents do need to know is that if your child is sick and seems to be having ANY difficulty breathing you need to call your doctor or go to the ER.
If your child is sick, keep them home from school. If you are sick don’t go to work or volunteer in the school cafeteria. To stay healthy over the ensuing “sick” season promote good hand washing and cough hygiene. Lastly, everyone over the age of 6 months needs a flu vaccine.