Ebola may be making headlines, but this other illness could be more of a threat.
Since this summer, it’s sickened almost 700 people across the U.S. and is the confirmed cause of death of two small children in just the last few weeks. But with Ebola hogging the headlines lately, Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) may not be getting the attention it needs. However, this mysterious virus may be more of a risk to some people than Ebola. Here’s a rundown of the facts:
What It Is
EV-D68 is one of more than 100 enteroviruses that circulate in the general population every year. Usually annoying but ultimately harmless, it’s one type of virus responsible for the common cold, with symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, cough, and in some cases a fever, explains Ashanti W. Woods, M.D., attending pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Why It’s Alarming Doctors Now
For reasons no one knows, the EV-D68 strain has emerged over the past few months as a serious threat, causing severe cold-like symptoms and even side effects such as difficulty breathing, reports the Centers for Disease Control. (Paralysis has also been reported in some children who have had enterovirus, but the CDC is still investigating this.) And unfortunately, the deaths of two young children have left health officials puzzled and panicked.
Who Is At Risk
The enterovirus often hits babies, infants, and teenagers the hardest because younger people generally haven’t yet built up immunity to it. “Most adults will only have mild symptoms if they contract it because they’ve been exposed to other strains of enterovirus at some point in life and have developed antibodies,” says Woods. While healthy adults will likely shake off EV-D68 without lasting repercussions, adults with a compromised immune system (because of an illness such as cancer, for example) or adults with an underlying condition affecting their respiratory system, like asthma, are much more of a target. That said, the virus is still the biggest threat in children, especially those with an underlying respiratory condition like asthma, so be extra-vigilant about keeping your kids germ-free this season and seeing a doctor if they develop cold symptoms.
How It’s Spread
Just like the cold and flu, EV-D68 is transmitted via respiratory fluids—basically saliva, nasal mucus, and spit, according to the CDC. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, viral particles can land on you and subsequently trigger an infection. It’s also possible to pick up the virus by touching a surface coated with viral particles and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth—entry points that allow the virus to get in your body.
How To Stay Safe
Take the same steps you would to steer clear of colds and the flu. That means washing your hands with soap and water for about 20 seconds; not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth; avoiding contact with or close proximity to a person who is coughing or sneezing; and disinfecting common surfaces to kill the virus.
What To Do if You Think You Have It
“Healthy adults probably don’t have to worry, but if you develop a cold, make sure it doesn’t increasingly cause difficulty breathing,” says Woods. “If you begin to wheeze or notice shortness of breath, tell your doctor.” Same goes for a child of any age who appears to have a worsening cold. Be very, very vigilant about symptoms that indicate a child is having trouble breathing, and if so, call your doctor immediately. While there’s no vaccine or anti-viral treatment the way there is for the flu, doctors will test for EV-D68 and monitor anyone with it, easing symptoms with lots of fluids, pain meds to reduce fever and body aches, and medicine that can help make breathing easier.
Author: Esther Crain