The number of individuals who got infected by a fast-spreading virus that cause potentially severe respiratory illness continues to increase with six states in the country namely Kansas, Kentucky, Colorado, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa already found to have confirmed cases of infection.

Six other states which include Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah reported of clusters of respiratory illness that are believed to be likely caused by the same virus called Enterovirus 68, also known as EV-D68, which belongs to the family of enteroviruses that are behind some common infections such as cold.

EV-D68 infection, however, occurs less frequently and because the virus is not as common as other disease-causing pathogens, much of it is yet unknown including how it spreads and how it can be effectively treated. So far, no vaccine is available to provide immunity against the virus and treatments are focused on alleviating symptoms which include cough, difficulty breathing and wheezing.

The illness can be mild in some patients but those with history of respiratory problems such as asthma are likely to experience serious complications that could get them hospitalized and even needing intensive care. Children between 6 months and 16 years old are particularly vulnerable to the virus with most of those who were infected hover between the ages 4 and 5.

Public health officials are concerned that the EV-D68-related respiratory illness could get worse as the start of the school year could provide the virus with an opportunity to gain momentum. Mary Anne Jackson, from the Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, also believes the start of classes has something to do with the increase in EV-D68 cases.

"It could have taken off right after school started. Our students start back around August 17, and I think it blew up at that point," Jackson said.

For parents concerned about their children getting hit by the virus, health experts said that good hygiene is crucial. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist from the Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City urged parents to teach their children to avoid touching their face with their unwashed hands. She also advised those who exhibit flu-like and common cold symptoms to get checked by a physician for possible respiratory problems.

Public health officials also recommend that children with asthma should be on top of their symptoms and their medications. Thorough and frequent washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is also recommended as well as avoiding contact with sick individuals.

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