The back-to-school season is typically a time when many kids are catching colds and minor illnesses, but this year many parents are (rightfully) concerned about the rapidly spreading enterovirus D68. Unlike other viral illnesses, D68 is not marked by the classic pattern of fever, cough, and runny nose. Instead, it presents symptoms similar to asthma, even in children who have no history of respiratory problems. The enterovirus D68 has been around for a long time, being first discovered in 1962, but it has never had the widespread infection rate happening presently. The viral infection is currently putting kids from the ages of 4-16 in the hospital throughout the Midwest and in some areas of the South. Here’s a look at what you need to know about this rapidly spreading illness to minimize panic while keeping your child protected.
Only a small handful of patients with this strain of enterovirus are running a fever. Therefore, parents should be looking for more common symptoms of the illness like wheezing, coughing, and general difficulty breathing.
Parents should remember that the enterovirus is not a bacterial infection, so antibiotics should not be in the picture for treatment. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or antiviral medication that can target the virus, because it is typically so isolated with infections. More and more kids are being hospitalized with symptoms consistent with enterovirus D68, but the only thing that can really be done is supplemental care.
Kids may be prescribed albuterol inhalers that relax the airways to make breathing a little easier, or they might need supplemental oxygen if respiratory issues already exist. As medical experts continue treating young patients, they expect that the virus will get worse before it gets better. Once more patients have been infected, immunity to the virus will become stronger. This cycle of burnout is common with diseases that are not widely circulated, because so many patients are susceptible at first.
A big challenge with treating enterovirus is that it’s a tough virus, able to survive even in the harsh conditions of the gut – unlike rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. D68 germs can linger on surfaces for up to a day, and these germs are easily spread from person-to-person contact as well. Still, disinfectants and good personal hygiene habits like proper hand washing can be valuable tools of prevention for the virus. Kids should be instructed to wash their hands frequently and avoid sharing drinks or cosmetics with other children.
Signs of complications
Parents should recognize that a majority of kids with D68 will have milder symptoms that can be treated with bed rest, nutritious foods, and some extra fluids. However, when there are symptoms like labored breathing or rapid breathing, it’s time to consult a doctor. Wheezing and labored breathing will indicate that kids are having a hard time getting enough oxygen, so medical attention will be needed.
MeMD can help you manage your child’s viral infection and offer convenient medical consultations from the comfort of your own home, so be sure to rely on our physicians as your child faces illnesses in the new school year.