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An outbreak of Enterovirus 68 has been occurring since the summer of 2014. While most cases are not serious, some children have required hospitalization.

Enterovirus is a common cause of illness in humans. Enterovirus is not just one specific virus. Outbreaks of different strains of the virus occur periodically. For reasons not known, outbreaks of enterovirus 68 have been occurring throughout the United States since the summer of 2014.

What to Know about Enterovirus 68

When an unusual number of infections are reported, such as with enterovirus 68, it can spread fear among parents. But becoming educated on the realities of the disease can take some of the fear out of the situation. It is important for parents to learn the facts about enterovirus 68 in order to help protect their children, but also to ease concerns.

Enterovirus is not new. Various strains of the virus have circulated every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, infections with enterovirus 68 have been occurring in various parts of the United States since 1987. But in 2014, there has been anoutbreak of enterovirus 68 across the United States. The CDC confirmed a much greater incidence of infections with enterovirus 68 in 2014 than in previous years.

This strain of enterovirus can cause respiratory symptoms, primarily in children.

Although many of the children infected only develop mild to moderate symptoms, some children are developing severe symptoms.  

Enterovirus outbreaks can occur any time of the year, but they are usually more common in the summer and fall months. The illness may spread more easily in the fall when children have returned to school after summer break.

The virus is transmitted through respiratory secretions, such as saliva and mucus. For instance, if an infected person sneezes and you are close enough to breathe in the tiny respiratory secretions, you may become infected.

In addition, the virus can be passed on through contact with a surface, which was infected from someone with the virus. For example, if someone infected with enterovirus 68 coughed into their hand and touched a tabletop, the virus can live on the surface for several hours. Other people who touch the surface and then rub their eyes or touch their mouth or nose can become infected. 

Enterovirus Symptoms

Symptoms of Enterovirus 68 can come on suddenly and start like typical cold symptoms. A runny nose, cough and fever are often symptoms. Since these symptoms are also common with a cold or the flu, every time a child has a runny nose or cough does not mean they are infected with the enterovirus.

According to the Enterovirus Foundation, symptoms can vary and may also include sinus congestion, body aches and fever. Some children may also develop gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

At first, symptoms may be mild, but in some cases, the illness will progress and symptoms can become more severe. 

Trouble breathing, wheezing and decreased oxygen levels in the blood are more serious symptoms, which require immediate medical treatment.

Although anyone can develop serious symptoms with enterovirus 68, children with medical conditions such as asthma, are more likely to develop trouble breathing, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Children Are Most At Risk For Serious Complications

When adults become infected with enterovirus, they often only develop mild symptoms. Children are the most at risk for severe symptoms and hospitalization.

Severe Symptoms in Some Children

According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, anyone can become infected with the virus. But it tends to affect children, teens and those with a weakened immune system more seriously than it affects adults. This may be because adults are likely to have been infected with the virus during their lifetime and have developed some immunity. Children may not have developed immunity and may become sicker when infected.

Most children who have been hospitalized due to infection with enterovirus 68 have severe respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath and wheezing. Children who already have asthma seem to be at the highest risk of respiratory complications.

Although breathing problems are the most common complication of the virus, additions problems have also developed. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a small number of children have developed complications including encephalitis and meningitis.

There has also been a small number of children who developed polio-like symptoms, such as limb weakness, after becoming infected with enterovirus 68. But researchers caution a definite link between the two conditions has not been established.

Treatment and Prevention of Enterovirus 68

Since enterovirus is due to a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective in treating it.

In most cases, the virus runs its course, and children recover in a week or so without any complications.

In mild to moderate cases of the illness, treatment may be similar to a cold and is aimed at reducing symptoms. Treatment, such as drinking plenty of fluids, rest and acetaminophen for fever and aches, may make a child more comfortable.

In children who are having serious respiratory symptoms, professional medical treatment is needed. Some children will be administrated aerosol breathing treatments to open up their lungs and ease symptoms, such as wheezing.  Oxygen may also be needed if breathing is difficult. In the worse instances, children will require assistance breathing from a mechanical ventilator until symptoms have improved.

Parents should keep infected children away from siblings or those who have a weakened immune system to prevent spreading the illness. In mid-October 2014, the CDC has developed a faster lab test, which is being implemented nationwide to diagnose enterovirus 68 quickly.

Although there is currently no vaccine available to prevent the virus, there are things parents can do to decrease the chances their child will become infected with enterovirus 68.

Children should be encouraged to wash their hands frequently. They should also be reminded to avoid touching their nose or putting their fingers in their mouth. Parents should keep children away from individuals who are ill. Frequently disinfecting commonly used surfaces and items, such as sinks, table tops and toys, may also help prevent the spread of the virus.

Although media reports can be frightening, most children with enterovirus 68 do not experience complications. On the positive side, the CDC expects the number of infections with enterovirus 68 to taper off by late fall 2014.

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