A respiratory virus that has been sweeping the Midwest in recent weeks and has now also hit Colorado is leaving hundreds of children hospitalized.
The illness has not yet been officially identified but is believed to be caused by the human enterovirus-68, a rare respiratory virus that was first identified in the 1960's and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is related to the rhinovirus that causes the common cold.
Symptoms of infection include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, blisters in the mouth, body aches and rash. The virus, which tends to affect children more than adults, also happens to have no available vaccine and no specific treatment for infection.
Although the virus is not often fatal, Christine Nyquist, a pediatric infectious disease physician said that the virus can be particularly dangerous to children who have asthma because of its impact in the respiratory system. At the Children's Hospital Colorado where Nyquist works, over 900 children who exhibited the symptoms have already been treated since Aug. 18, 86 of whom were admitted to the hospital.
"We've been seeing a very high volume in our ER, ICU and among hospitalized patients. The hospital is very, very full," said Nyquist. "Kids are getting (the virus) and having asthma complications."
Similar cases also occur in other areas with Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Georgia already seeking assistance from the CDC to investigate the mysterious disease. In Kansas City, the Children's Mercy Hospital has already treated nearly 500 children, 60 whom required intensive hospitalization.
Samples that were sent for analysis have not yet produced a definitive answer as to whether or not the outbreak of diseases is really caused by the enterovirus-68 but the CDC has already acknowledged the severity of the situation and recommended ways on how to avoid infection.
CDC's Division of Viral Diseases director Mark Pallansch said that the abnormally high number of reported hospitalizations due to infection of the yet-undetermined virus could possibly be only the top of the iceberg.
"We're in the middle of looking into this," Pallansch told CNN. "We don't have all the answers yet."
To prevent the spread of the disease, the CDC recommends observing basic sanitary practices including washing of hands, avoiding sick individuals and covering the nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing. The parents of asthmatic children were also advised to make their children's inhalers easily accessible and to come up with a treatment plan in case their children's asthma attack worsens.