Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in a severe respiratory illness in children seen in emergency rooms and hospitals in Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri.
The CDC confirmed that in most of the cases, the culprit was Enterovirus 68.
As of Sept. 10, the agency has confirmed 84 respiratory illnesses caused by EV-D68, as it's known, in Missouri and Illinois, as well as in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Kentucky.
I know what you’re thinking: Should I be worried about this disease showing up in California? Read on, I have the answers to your questions!
The Basics: What is Enterovirus 68?
It's a "fairly uncommon" non-polio enterovirus, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's national center for immunization and respiratory diseases.
It can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, including fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, body and muscle aches, wheezing and difficulty breathing. (The CDC has this handy FAQ about the disease.)
Shuchat offers this guidance: "Runny nose and the sniffles are not unexpected and that can be caused by many different things, but it if looks like your child is having difficulty breathing, you absolutely want to seek medical help."
Anyone can get EV-D68, but in the recent outbreak, kids with asthma seem to be at higher risk for severe respiratory illness, the CDC says.
Has it hit the Golden State?
That's not a simple question to answer, because there's no requirement that enterovirus infections be reported to public health departments in California.
But state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez says the California Department of Public Health is on the case, monitoring several indicators, including:
- Has there been an increase in reports of respiratory outbreaks in California? At this point, Chavez says, the answer is: No.
- Has there been an increase in outpatient visits for respiratory illnesses, or hospitalizations for pneumonia? Chavez says the state's influenza monitoring systems indicate the answer is: No.
- Have specimens from patients hospitalized with respiratory infections tested positive for the disease? Chavez says there have been no positive results so far.
So does that mean I can relax?
Well, maybe not. Even with the state's monitoring, it's possible that it's already here. In the end, "geography isn't that helpful when it comes to respiratory viruses," says the CDC's Schuchat.
"So we really do think that clinicians throughout the county need to be on the alert for increases in severe respiratory illness and consider this in the differential diagnosis," she says.
State epidemiologist Chavez says California is prepared for that possibility.
The state is sharing the CDC's information and guidance with healthcare providers and local health departments, informing them about how to handle potential cases. The state public health agency is also collecting specimens from patients hospitalized with respiratory infections, to assess whether EV-D68 is circulating here.
So what can I do?
There's no vaccine to prevent EV-D68. But the CDC suggests several ways people can protect themselves against respiratory illnesses, including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers;
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
- Avoid kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick;
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.
The CDC offers an extra word of caution for people with asthma, who are at higher risk for respiratory illnesses. They should:
- Take medicines and maintain control of their illnesses;
- Get the flu vaccine;
- Avoid triggers that can cause an asthma attack, like tobacco smoke.
Do you have questions about EV-D68, or another disease in your community? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.