A highly infectious respiratory illness is spreading across the U.S. and has caused hundreds of school-age children to become sick, many of which have been hospitalized due to the severity of their symptoms. Children who have been hit especially hard by the virus are those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory weaknesses and doctors are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of children ending up in the emergency room after their cold symptoms progressed to respiratory distress. As of yet, the mystery virus has not been identified but authorities suspect it may be a rare respiratory virus called human enterovirus 68 (HEV68).
There is growing concern as severe cases of illness from the virus have shown up in at least ten states including Kansas, Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa, Georgia, and Oklahoma. In Kansas City alone at least 450 children were treated for symptoms of the virus at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Of that number, 60 of the sick children required “intensive hospitalization” according to Jake Jacobson, a spokesperson for the hospital. Children’s Mercy Hospital Director of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, who has been in pediatric medicine for 30 years, says that the number of children who are requiring intensive care is “unprecedented.”
In Colorado, medical professionals are seeing a large increase in children who first present with cold symptoms, which quickly become more serious. For those with asthma, the effects of the virus can be particularly dangerous. One asthmatic teen in Denver stopped responding to his medication, and according to his mother, became “unresponsive.” Further, the teen was “turning white and his lips turned blue.” The boy was airlifted to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children and ended up on a breathing tube for 24 hours. He has since recovered but medical professionals remain concerned at the rapid progression of the virus.
In Illinois, more than 70 children were sickened by the virus just over the Labor Day weekend and local hospitals are restricting children from visiting hours to try to keep the highly infectious virus from spreading to patients. The virus may be mainly spreading among children because they are less likely to practice vigilant hand-washing routines and the covering of their mouths to prevent the sharing of respiratory secretions. Those with asthma are more affected by the symptoms because their respiratory functions are already compromised.
The initial increase in cases of the mystery respiratory virus seems to have occurred in mid-August, which also happens to be the same time that the school year starts for many children. Health authorities are asking people to exercise caution and to practice appropriate hand-washing routines and remind children to do the same. Just as with any flu or cold virus, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing can help prevent contagious respiratory droplets from becoming airborne and inhaled by others in the vicinity. Commonly touched surfaces like door handles and toilet flush handles should be routinely disinfected.
Symptoms of the mystery virus spreading in children across the U.S. generally start out the same as those of the common cold progressing to a severe cold with body and muscle pain, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and in some cases a skin rash, fever and vomiting. Although the respiratory virus has not yet been officially identified, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that at least 19 of just the Kansas City children alone tested positive for HEV68. These developing statistics seem to indicate that HEV68, although considered rare, may be the virus sickening children across the nation.
By Alana Marie Burke