At least four people have died after contracting enterovirus 68, a severe respiratory illness that has spread to more than 40 states, sickened at least 472 people and caused neurological symptoms in dozens. The illness is most dangerous to children, especially those with asthma.
Enterovirus 68 typically resembles the common cold with symptoms such as fever, sneezing, running nose and coughing. A handful of patients have reported polio-like symptoms with muscle weakness in the arms, shoulders, hips and facial muscles. Doctors do not yet know whether the paralysis is permanent.
The first cases of enterovirus 68 were seen in August at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. It has since spread to several states including Alabama. Five confirmed cases of enterovirus 68 have ben confirmed in Alabama – four in Mobile.
Children’s of Alabama has confirmed that it is treating three children with neurological symptoms, two of whom have tested positive for enterovirus 68. More specimens are being sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as the virus can be elusive and found in varying parts of the body including the gray matter of the spinal cord and the nasal cavity.
Enterovirus 68 is in a family of viruses that also includes the poliovirus and rhinovirus. They are very common in the late summer and early fall. As many as 10 to 15 million people in the United States are infected with the virus each year. Most recover without treatment, but some types of the virus are more dangerous, causing hand, foot and mouth disease; viral meningitis; infections of the heart or brain; and paralysis.
Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the UAB Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s said that despite the spread of the disease to Alabama, it appears to be on the decline.