An uncommon virus is spreading throughout the nation causing cold symptoms and wheezing in kids and youth.
“There are a bunch of kids who have never had asthma and are wheezing, so that’s why they are coming in,” says Dr. Christine Nyquist, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of Infection Control at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified the virus as enterovirus-D68 (EV-D68), a strain that hasn’t circulated in several years and therefore people don’t have immunity. It’s a cousin to the common cold, but can cause difficulty breathing in children. Children are more susceptible to wheezing because they have smaller windpipes.
The surge of respiratory infections began in hospitals in the middle of the nation, affecting Illinois and Missouri the worst. Now 12 states have reported a high number of cases.
Since August 18, Children’s Colorado has treated more than 1,900 children and youth for severe respiratory illness in their emergency and urgent care locations throughout Metro Denver; of these, 179 have been admitted to the hospital. “The timing coincides with the start of school,” Nyquist says.
Because of the higher-than-usual number of patients, Children’s Colorado has limited its visitors earlier than ever this year—typically the respiratory season visitation policy begins in November. Anyone who is sick or younger than 13 years old cannot visit patients.
There is no vaccine to prevent EV-D68. Nyquist suggests common sense prevention tips to stay healthy: wash hands; avoid sick people; if you and/or your kids are sick, stay at home; keep asthma under control and stay on asthma medications; get the flu shot as soon as it’s available and make sure everyone in your family has updated whooping cough (pertussis) vaccines.
Parents do not need to have their child tested for EV-D68. The hospital will not be able to identify a specific strain because it requires that a specialized test be sent to the CDC. Plus, the test would come back as rhinovirus/enterovirus, related to the common cold so treatment would be the same regardless. Symptoms should be treated like the common cold. If there is wheezing or concern call your doctor.
“We are still trying to learn more about what is special about this virus. That data will fully come.”