Health Column: Respiratory virus isn’t here — yet

09/21/2014 7:00 AM |

Experts say the uncommon respiratory virus that’s sending hundreds of children to hospitals in the Midwest could “certainly” make its way here. But those same experts are quick to note that the viral infection no more serious than your common winter-season flu. 

So far, at least 10 states have contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for help investigating clusters of the virus, with investigations underway in states as close as Ohio and North Carolina, according to an agency release.

The virus, known as enterovirus D68 was first detected in the 1960s, showing up from time to time in different areas nationwide, said Dr. Saul Hymes, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses — including coxsackie and even polio — and they cause 10 to 15 million infections in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

“Most of these virus strains tend to cause fever, diarrhea and sometimes rash,” Dr. Hymes said. “[But] it is unusual to see respiratory symptoms in a summer virus that is landing patients in the hospital.”

Enteroviruses hit their peak in the middle of the summer season — when the public is a bit less worried about respiratory illnesses and not as keen on protecting themselves from germs, he said.

According to CDC reports, children, especially those with a history of asthma or wheezing, are most at risk of catching the virus, as they would be with any virus, Dr. Hymes noted.

“Children in general are more at risk because of hygiene,” he said. “It spreads through mucus, and kids are just better at spreading it because they more likely to have their fingers in their mouths or noses.”

With a possibility of the virus spreading, Dr. Hymes said, it’s important to keep up with “common sense” hygiene efforts:

• Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, particularly after going to the bathroom and changing diapers.

• Clean and disinfect regularly touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.

• Avoid shaking hands, kissing, hugging and sharing cups or utensils with people who are sick.

For those who do have asthma or suffer from wheezing, Dr. Hymes recommends staying on top of taking medication and avoiding triggers, particularly if one is experiencing viral symptoms.

“They don’t need to be any more worried about this than they would be for the common flu,” he said. “Parents should do as they normally would, and visit their pediatrician with any concerns.

“While it’s been on the news that it is severe, there is probably a huge number of much more mildly affected people not being hospitalized with this,” he said.

And as with most viruses, all one can really do is treat symptoms. Dr. Hymes reviewed that protocol: “Treat the fever, treat the respiratory symptoms, hydrate and make the patient feel comfortable,” he said.

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