By now, you’ve probably heard about Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), which is sweeping the United States. The virus mainly affects children, and especially those with a history of asthma or wheezing. So what do you need to know about this virus? And how can you protect your children?
Enterovirus infections are actually very common in the U.S. But this particular variant was first discovered in California in 1962 and has not been seen in large numbers in the U.S. since 1987. For that reason, children have not built up resistance to the strain. Enterovirus infections are most common in the summer and fall, and tend to teeter off as winter approaches.
How to Detect Enterovirus D68
The symptoms of EV-D68 mirror those of the common cold or flu—fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. And the virus spreads much like the common cold. Healthy children can catch the virus when an infected person sneezes, coughs or touches a surface that is then touched by the child.
However, if your child starts to wheeze or has difficulty breathing, then there is a chance he or she has EV-D68 rather than a common cold and a trip to the doctor is in order. Many hospitals and some physician’s offices can test your child to see if they have an enterovirus infection but most cannot do specific testing to determine the type of enterovirus. Generally, physicians and hospitals will only test for EV-D68 if your child is having severe respiratory problems and the cause is unclear.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for people with EV-D68. For mild respiratory illness, you can help relieve your child’s symptoms by taking over-the-counter medications for pain and fever. Aspirin, however, should not be given to children. If the respiratory symptoms are severe, your child may need to be hospitalized and given specialized treatments to ease breathing.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Children
To protect yourself and your children from getting and spreading EV-D68, use many of the same steps you do to prevent the spread of the common cold:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. The water does not have to be warm.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups with people who are sick.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, especially if someone in the household is sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
What to Do if Your Child Has Asthma
Children with asthma are the most at risk for severe respiratory symptoms from EV-D68. For these children the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:
- Updating your asthma action plan with your child’s primary care provider.
- Make sure your child takes prescribed asthma medications as directed, especially long term control medication(s).
- Be sure to keep your child’s reliever medication with you or with caretakers such as the school’s dispensary. Make sure that anyone taking care of your child knows what to do in case of an asthma attack.
- Make sure your child gets a flu vaccine.
- If your child develops new or worsening asthma symptoms, follow the steps of your asthma action plan. If the symptoms do not go away as expected, call your child’s physician immediately.
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