Enterovirus D68: what you need to know about the illness sweeping the US

A unusually severe outbreak of enterovirus D68, which has put hundreds in hospital, is causing alarm

Child at hospital
(Image credit: THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty)

The little-known respiratory illness enterovirus D68 is sweeping across the US and Canada, with more than 500 cases reported in 43 states. Hundreds of children have been hospitalised in Kansas City, Missouri.

Four patients who died in the US tested positive for Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), according to Fox News, although it is unclear what role the virus played in their deaths. The Daily Mail reports that a ten-year-old girl was among those who died.

Is enterovirus D68 a new disease?

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No, EV-D68 was first recorded in California in 1962. It then lay largely dormant for decades, but in 2008 it started to re-emerge in larger clusters. However, it was not until this summer that it began to spread with such ferocity.

What are its symptoms?

The milder symptoms are difficult to distinguish from those for flu or colds. They include a high temperature, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and muscular aches. However, in more severe cases it can cause wheezing and difficulty breathing.

How is enterovirus D68 transmitted?

In this respect too it is similar to colds and flu. It will be present in an infected person’s secretions, so it spreads when they cough, sneeze, or contaminate a surface. To avoid it, steer clear of infected people, wash your hands frequently and take other common-sense measures, as you would to avoid everyday bugs.

How bad could it get?

Generally, the peak time for the virus is the summer and autumn, so medical authorities hope that cases will decline later in the autumn, Yahoo! reports. However, it has proved an unpredictable virus, so anything is possible.

Who is most at risk?

According to Mary Anne Jackson of the US Centers for Disease Control, children aged 4 to 12 are in most danger of contracting this disease. Their immune systems haven't been exposed to as many diseases as older people, and schools are happy hunting grounds for germs. Many of those infected this year had a history of asthma or wheezing.

How is enterovirus-D68 treated?

There are no vaccines or antiviral treatments for EV-D68, so the best that can be done is to treat patients' symptoms and give them plenty of fluids.

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