A Michigan toddler has died from complications of enterovirus D68 in an outbreak that spans more than 40 states, where it has sickened about 500 people, killing at least five and causing paralysis in dozens.
Enterovirus is in a family of viruses that includes poliovirus and rhinovirus. People infected with enterovirus display symptoms similar to those of the common cold – fever, sneezing, running nose and coughing – which can progress to a serious respiratory illness. The virus is common and most of the estimated 10 to 15 million people in the United States who become infected recover without treatment.
However, like the flu, there are different strains of enterovirus, and the enterovirus D68 strain is proving to be quite pernicious. Children with asthma are more vulnerable, but some children without asthma have suffered respiratory distress. In a handful of cases, children affected have also experienced polio-like symptoms, such as muscle weakness in the arms, shoulders, hips and facial muscles. Doctors still do not know if the paralysis is permanent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has seen substantially more specimens for entrovirus lab testing than usual this year due to the large outbreak of the virus.
Testing for enterovirus can be difficult because the virus can be elusive within the body, showing up in varying parts of the body from the gray matter of the spinal cord to the nasal cavity. Faster diagnosis can lead to faster treatment. Thus, the CDC is hoping to expedite treatment to those infected as well as curb the growing number of those sickened. The agency has developed a new lab test that will reduce what would normally take several weeks to get results in a few days.
Enterovirus began over the summer and is expected to continue through the fall across the country.