A respiratory virus that has sent hundreds of children to hospitals in Missouri is causing alarm across the Midwest and beyond.
The unusually high number of hospitalizations reported could be “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases,” said Mark Pallansch, a virologist and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Viral Diseases.
Several states have contacted the CDC for assistance in investigating clusters of enterovirus: Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Utah. Four — Colorado, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa — have confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68, also known as EV-D68.
The virus has sent more than 30 children a day to a Kansas City, Missouri, hospital, where about 15% of the youngsters were placed in intensive care, officials said.
“It’s worse in terms of scope of critically ill children who require intensive care. I would call it unprecedented,” said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a director for infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital, where about 475 children were recently treated.
“I’ve practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” she said.
The virus can start as just a cold. Signs include coughing, difficulty breathing and in some cases a rash. Sometimes they can be accompanied by fever or wheezing.
Respiratory problems appear to the hallmark of EV-D68, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“Most enteroviruses cause either a little bit of a cold or a diarrheal illness — a few cause meningitis,” said Schaffner. “This one is the, if you will, odd cousin. It causes prominent respiratory symptoms. Why it does that, we’re really not sure.”
The unusually high number of hospitalizations reported now could be “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases,” said Pallansch of the CDC.
There’s not a great deal you can do, health officials say, beyond taking commonsense steps to reduce the risk.
Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds — particularly after going to the bathroom and changing diapers.
Clean and disinfect surfaces that are regularly touched by different people, such as toys and doorknobs.
Avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick. And stay home if you feel unwell.
There’s no vaccine for EV-D68.