Expected bump in enterovirus cases not a cause for alarm, CDC says

Oct. 22, 2014—Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have developed a new, faster lab test for diagnosing enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), a respiratory illness that has sickened children since August and has now spread throughout the country.

Spread of the virus

As of mid-October, CDC had tested more than 1,100 specimens sent in by hospitals that treated people suspected of having the virus. The agency prioritized testing of those with severe symptoms but said there are likely many more people with milder forms of the illness.

Early on, EV-D68 seemed to be concentrated in the Midwest. But now, CDC and state health agencies have confirmed more than 922 cases in 46 states and the District of Columbia. Most of these occurred among children.

What better testing means

With the old test, it took several weeks to get results. But the new test can confirm a diagnosis in just days. It has greatly sped up testing of the roughly 1,000 specimens that were still awaiting CDC evaluation as of last week. Previously they averaged 40 per day; with the new test, it’s 180. CDC has now tested over 1,400 specimens total.

Test results don’t help determine treatment plans for specific patients—such as the use of oxygen as a form of supportive therapy. Instead, they’re intended to help health officials track cases of the virus and target their response.

Because of the accelerated testing, it may appear that there has been a sudden increase in new infections. That is not the case. CDC expects that, as with other enteroviruses, EV-D68 infections will likely begin to decline by late fall.

In fact, informal reports from some hospitals and states suggest the infections may already be decreasing.

The take-home message
The United States is currently experiencing a nationwide outbreak of EV-D68. It’s one of several enteroviruses and rhinoviruses that cause respiratory symptoms in millions of American kids each year. Although EV-D68 is not new, it has been diagnosed more frequently this year than in years past and has been most severe in children with asthma.

Infants, children and teenagers are at greater risk for getting the virus because they may not have been exposed to it in the past. As a result, they don’t have the immunity that many older people do. This means they’re less able to fight off the disease.

Symptoms of EV-D68 include:

  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Body and muscle aches

More severe symptoms include wheezing and difficulty breathing.

6 steps to prevent infection

You can help protect your children by encouraging your family to follow some basic prevention tips from CDC:

  1. Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  3. Avoid close contact—such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils—with people who are sick.
  4. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands.
  5. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
  6. Stay home when you’re sick, and keep sick children out of school.

If your child has asthma

It’s a good time to review a child’s asthma action plan with his or her doctor. Go over all aspects of self-care with your child. It’s important to talk with the child’s teachers or caregivers as well.

Be sure to notify your child’s doctor immediately if he or she seems to develop new or worsening symptoms that do not improve by following the asthma action plan.

Call your child’s doctor if he or she is having trouble breathing or is experiencing worsening symptoms that are hard to control. Hospital care may be needed.

 

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