Children's hospitals across the U.S. are experiencing a spike in the number of children seeking medical treatment in recent weeks with some even requiring intensive care in the hospital due to a respiratory illness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the virus that appears to be causing the illness in over 1,000 children in 11 states is the human enterovirus-D68 as testing of nasal and throat cultures from patients confirmed a number of cases. Of the 22 samples taken from patients in Kansas City hospital, the virus was found to be behind the symptoms in 19 of the cases. The same goes true in specimens that came from Chicago where 11 of the 14 specimens tested points to the enterovirus-D68.
The CDC said that the virus, which is also known as the EVD-68, is similar to the rhinovirus, which is responsible for the common cold. Unlike with cold, however, infection with the enterovirus-D68 could lead to more severe respiratory symptoms. Many patients, who are mostly school-age children, also get seriously ill. At the Children's Mercy Hospital & Clinics in Kansas City, for instance, about 12 percent of the hundreds of young patients required intensive care.
The Enterovirus-D68 belongs to a family of viruses called enteroviruses. While knowledge about how this particular virus spreads is limited, CDC said that most enteroviruses spread through contact with feces and respiratory secretions such as saliva and mucus. Infection can be prevented with frequent and thorough washing of hands with soap and water, avoiding of sick persons and wiping surfaces where the virus could thrive.
Although the virus sometimes only causes mild symptoms, infection could be worse in children who have existing respiratory problem such as those who have asthma. Unfortunately, no medication is yet available for treating enterovirus-D68 and there is no vaccine that could provide immunity against infection.
Doctors, however, can provide patients with supportive care to reduce the symptoms and lung inflammation so health experts advise parents to seek medical care if they notice their children showing symptoms of respiratory illness, which include coughing and wheezing, fever, gastrointestinal distress and rash.
"The most important thing to pick up on is any difficulty breathing," CBS News medical contributor Holly Phillips said. "Wheezing or a cough that just won't stop, those are the warning signs and parents should have a low threshold for heading to the hospital with that."