Enterovirus Outbreak: What signs to watch for with your children

There have been quite a few news stories out there about the “mysterious” respiratory virus that has been found in 10 different states and has spread quickly to infect hundreds of children. The virus has caused these children to get very sick very quickly and many have required hospitalization for treatment. This virus has come out of nowhere and is spreading rapidly, considering the time of year (during the winter this kind of outbreak would be more expected due to staying indoors, sharing items in school, etc.) What is the scoop on this virus and how concerned should you be for your children? Let’s not listen to the hype and break it down!

enterovirus- SMChealth.orgThe virus causing this outbreak:

The virus causing these children in 10 different states to have cold like symptoms leading to respiratory distress is known as the enterovirus D68.  Enteroviruses are very common viruses that either have very mild symptoms (runny nose, stuffy nose, foggy head, etc.) or no symptoms at all. This strain of the virus is rare, historically, either because people don’t seek treatment and get diagnosed, or because the symptoms aren’t as severe (so we never hear about it.)

Symptoms to look for:

As I said earlier, an infection can have very mild cold symptoms, but the major difference between the other strains of enterovirus and D68 is that D68 causes respiratory issues. Most often children (as opposed to adults) are infected with D68 and they have may or may not have a fever, but they will have heavy wheezing, cough, and commonly complain of having trouble breathing. Essentially, children who do not have asthma show signs of asthma, and it happens quickly: blue lips, rapid breathing, anxiety, and respiratory distress (when they really aren’t passing air.) Respiratory distress is a medical emergency and is really scary to see happen; call 911 immediately because your child may need assistance breathing quickly, and the faster they are in expert hands, the better.

Prevention and Treatment

The bummer about viruses is there is no treatment, so antibiotics won’t do a thing, only time (and it usually lasts a week.) Teach common cold prevention to your kids. Washing hands after using the bathroom and before eating is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of viruses, as well as limiting touching their mouths/face without washing first (or using hand sanitizer.) Also, teaching them to cough into their elbow, to cover their mouth, and to speak up if other children are coughing to ask them to cover their mouths (I ask adults to cover their mouths in public all the time…or I run away with a horrified look on my face, which you probably shouldn’t tell your kids to do.) At home, you can clean surfaces with a bleach (or alternative) when the kids are sick to prevent the spread of the virus, and keep your kids home when they aren’t feeling well, even if it seems like a light call (no fever or anything you can put your finger on but they seem run down) because a day of rest can help the immune system to recharge and kill of some nasty bacteria.

One other thing that you can do, and I know this is controversial to many people, is get your kids vaccinated for the flu. If you can help ward off that big virus, you can help to keep their immune system strong all fall, winter, spring, and most healthcare practitioners will have the vaccine available in the end of September.

Most at risk:

Children with asthma or other chronic respiratory diseases and autoimmune disorders really need to be watched closely, and any signs of respiratory decline should be seen ASAP.

How worried should I be?

I don’t like to be an alarmist, and you know your child better than anyone else. If this virus is found at your school or in your town, be a little more wary of looking for symptoms and keeping an ear peeled for someone who may be infected on your kid’s team, in their class, or in their group of friends. If you know it is around, you will pay more attention to the symptoms…because not every cold or runny nose will lead to a hospital visit. Knowledge, and being protective momma bear, can go a long way!

Yours in Good Health


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