CDC Warns Of Fast-Spreading Enterovirus Afflicting Children

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
By Paul Martin

by Nancy Shute
September 08, 2014

A rarely seen virus is sending children to the hospital with severe respiratory infections, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning doctors and parents to be on the alert.

“Hospitalizations are higher than would be expected at this time of year,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, head of infectious diseases for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday at a press briefing on enterovirus 68. “The situation is evolving quickly.”

In August, health officials in Illinois and Missouri reported a surge in emergency room visits for severe respiratory illnesses in Chicago and Kansas City. That surge is continuing. Enterovirus 68 has been identified in 19 of 22 people tested in Kansas City, and 11 of 14 cases in Chicago. The sick patients have all been children and teenagers, and 68 percent have a history of asthma or wheezing, according to a report published Monday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. No one is known to have died.

So far about a dozen states have reported higher-than-usual numbers of severe respiratory infections, and the CDC is working with them to figure out if EV-68 is to blame, Schuchat says. “This is a very dynamic situation, an unusual virus, and we’re just beginning to understand it.”

Some patients have become sick enough to end up in the intensive care unit on oxygen. Many have wheezing, even those who don’t have asthma.

Enteroviruses are very common, with 10 to 15 million infections in the United States year. They usually cause mild illness, if they make people sick at all.

But EV-68 is a rarer critter. It was first identified in California in 1962, but then was almost never seen until 2009 to 2012, when there were outbreaks in Japan, the Philippines and the Netherlands, and small clusters of cases in the United States.

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