Respiratory Virus Infects Hundreds of US Children

Suspected enterovirus 68 identity not yet confirmed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) An unknown respiratory virus recently put more than 300 kids in the hospital in Kansas City, MO, and many more have become sick in other states. The culprit may be human enterovirus 68 (HEV68), officials say.

According to a health alert from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS), enteroviruses are fairly common, but some cases can be serious. About 15 percent of the recent cases in Kansas City required the children to enter intensive care.

Health officials are working to confirm the identity of the virus and treat those infected.

"Don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands."

"My colleagues and I have noticed an increase in children coming to clinic with respiratory illnesses," said Bridget Boyd, MD, a pediatrician and child safety expert at Loyola University Health System.

"Enterovirus is a very common illness during the summer months. Typically, the infection causes mild symptoms such as runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache and rash. The difference this year had been more coughing and wheezing," Dr. Boyd explained.

"Children with asthma and very young children may be more seriously affected, but most children will have the symptoms of a common cold. There is no cause for panic," she stressed.

Between 10 and 15 million people become infected with enteroviruses each year, MDHSS reports. But HEV68 is somewhat less common.

HEV68 is thought to spread through close contact with others. The virus has not been studied much, as infections have been fairly rare since the virus was first isolated in 1962, the MDHSS health alert notes.

Missouri officials say HEV68 causes respiratory illness, which can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include wheezing and other asthma symptoms related to breathing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials told NEJM Journal Watch that HEV68 cases are suspected in at least 10 states, which include Kansas, Iowa, Colorado and Georgia.

One children's hospital in Colorado reported treating more than 900 kids with symptoms of the virus. About 10 percent of those required hospitalization, NEJM Journal Watch reported.

While there is no specific treatment for the virus, most cases will be mild and only require treatment of symptoms, the MDHSS notes. However, HEV68 can be severe or deadly, and anyone who suspects infection should seek medical care immediately.

Dr. Boyd offered her recommendations for reducing the risk of becoming infected with the virus.

"Remember to practice good hand washing. Do not touch your face without washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water," she said. "Teach children to cough and sneeze in their flexed elbow rather than on their hands. Wash commonly touched areas of the house, such as door knobs and sinks. Cell phones need to be cleaned often as well. Keep children home from school if they are febrile or have a severe cough."

Dr. Boyd added, "There is currently no vaccine for enterovirus. However, flu season is around the corner, so remember to get your flu shots!"

Review Date: 
September 8, 2014
Last Updated:
September 10, 2014