Respiratory enterovirus spreading across nation

At least 12 states, including Ohio, are investigating an increase in respiratory illnesses that could be related to the rare enterovirus known as EV-D68. Photo from StrangeSounds.org

Ohio health departments and hospitals are looking into an increase in respiratory illnesses in children. The Enterovirus D68, known as EV-D68, is a rare respiratory virus that has possibly hit at least 12 states and continues to spread, affecting young children and those who have asthma. According to the Portage County Health Department, Ohio does not have any positive tests for EV-D68 at this time, but people need to be paying attention to their symptoms if they’re sick, said Rose Ferraro, Director of Nursing.

“If your child is having difficulty breathing, get them to the hospital immediately so they can get the help they need,” she added.

Enteroviruses are common viruses, but EV-D68 causes mild to severe respiratory illnesses, some of which require hospitalization. What starts as a common cold escalates quickly into symptoms that include fever, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and severe asthma symptoms.

Be aware and prepared

The virus is mostly affecting children, but that doesn’t mean students and adults are immune to it. People who are around children are susceptible to catching the virus, as well as those who have asthma or a weakened immune system, as it is spread through close contact with infected people or infected surfaces.

Everyone needs to be aware of this no matter their age, especially if they are around kids,” Ferraro said. “This virus isn’t some new thing we’re having to deal with– it’s been around since 1962– but everyone needs to know about it.“

Ferraro said asthmatics know when they can’t breathe, but it’s a little more complicated for children because they don’t always know when they need to seek medical treatment. It is important for asthmatics to take their medications and parents need to pay attention to their kids, especially if they have asthma.

“I worry because I have asthma, and we have children here with asthma that we give breathing treatments to now,” Cynthia Cleary, education specialist and a lead teacher at Kent’s Childcare Development Center, said. “So I do worry about their health. Even kids who have a compromised immune system, they should stay away from grocery stores and Wal-Mart, places like that, and we tell the parents that. I even tell them to wipe down the cart handless.”

Cleanliness is key

Ferraro said hand washing is very important. “Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after changing a diaper,” she said. “Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth especially. Avoid hugging, kissing, sharing cups or drinking after people, things like that. Clean toys and doorknobs.”

Cleary agreed and said she encourages her co-workers to wash their hands on a regular basis. “We wash our hands after everything. I encourage people to wash their hands before they leave to go home. Anytime we wipe a nose, we wash our hands and the kid’s hands.”

The most important thing is to be aware and be prepared. “If a kid has a fever, a cough and is having trouble breathing, that’s a concern and something needs to be done about it,” Cleary said. “If their symptoms are serious, we will call the parent and send them home.”

The Childcare Development Center requires children to be fever-free for 24 hours without an aid before they are allowed to return to school or daycare, and parents should let the teachers know if his or her child hasn’t been feeling well or just got over an illness.

Use common sense

“We can’t really wear masks all day every day, although sometimes I wish we could,” Cleary said. “So it’s important to do what we can and the main thing is cleanliness. Wash our hands, clean the toys and just wash everything.”

Cleary isn’t afraid of EV-D68 because “there’s always something going around,” but she said everyone needs to be prepared.

“It’s just common sense. Wash your hands!” Becky Lehman, Director of Health Education and Promotion for the Portage County Health Department, said. “We are entering flu season. Get your flu shot! Disinfecting things is important.”

Lehman said these precautions need to be done and they need to be done now, as well as continued throughout the season. “This is something that should be known campus wide. Wipe down the doorknobs and computer screens, keyboards, anything people are constantly in contact with.”

If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your local health care provider.

Portage County health providers near Kent State
Portage County Health Providers Near Kent State