Virus Plagues the States: An Analysis by Dr. Don Donahue
Enteroviruses are a broad family of microbes that include the causes of polio, the common cold and the current human enterovirus 68 (HEV68) outbreak. These viruses are sufficiently numerous that many are classified simply by the order in which they were classified, hence enterovirus 68 was the 68th variation identified.
Like for its distant relatives, transmission of HEV68 increases in the early autumn when people complete summer travel, begin to move indoors, and return to school. Because it is a relatively rare enterovirus, much is unknown about HEV68. The cause and source of the current outbreak are not understood. As is the case for all enteroviruses, infants, children and teenagers are more likely to get infected and become sick. That has been the experience for this outbreak, which has infected a broad range of ages from 6 weeks to 16 years, with a concentration among 5 and 6-year-olds. This latter age group is the ideal reservoir for this disease, having limited immunity from prior exposure and entering school with dozens of other in the same situation. The challenge becomes limited spread and, once someone becomes ill, differentiating HEV68 from the other enteroviruses, such as the common cold, that affect tens of millions annually.
Children with asthma, bronchitis or other pulmonary (respiratory) conditions are at particular risk. Initial symptoms resemble those of a cold and include sneezing, a runny nose, and a cough. Medical evaluation should be sought if a severe cough, a rash, fever, difficulty breathing or wheezing (a whistling sound from the lungs when breathing) develop. Because influenza also causes fever and the flu season is almost upon us, immunization against influenza is highly recommended.
HEV68 spreads like the common cold, through close contact and from surfaces touched by those with the virus. You can reduce the chance of spreading HEV68 by frequent hand washing. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. Avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick. Schools and other meeting places can reduce spread by disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as lunchroom tables, toys and doorknobs. And anyone who is sick should be encouraged to stay home.