A recent upsurge in respiratory illness across the county has hospital emergency rooms busy in many states including Ohio. Experts have attributed the spike to the human enterovirus D68, a respiratory virus first identified in the 1960s. Brian Kaminski, DO, medical director of the ProMedica Toledo Hospital Emergency Center, has the answers to common questions about this virus that is sweeping the nation.
Q: What is human enterovirus D68?
A: Human enterovirus D68 is a respiratory virus that we see during the summer and fall. It’s a highly contagious illness that is spread through close contact with infected people. Symptoms include fever, rash, runny nose, difficulty breathing, and muscle aches. Unfortunately, many times you can’t tell the difference between this virus and a cold. The majority of the people who get it are only going to experience normal cold symptoms and will probably be fine within seven to 10 days. A very small percentage of people experience the severe symptoms that require supportive care but it is not fatal.
Q: How is human enterovirus D68 treated?
A: Similar to other viruses, it’s only treated with supportive care. There is no treatment, no antibiotics and no vaccine to prevent the virus. When people come in with these symptoms, we treat their breathing, we give them medicine to help open up the airways and keep them comfortable.
Q: Who is most likely to get human enterovirus D68?
A: Infants, children and teenagers are most likely to get infected with the virus. We can’t predict which children it’s going to affect. Children with asthma have a higher likelihood of suffering severe illness but we’re also seeing children who haven’t had any history of respiratory illness including asthma that are ending up with severe illness.
Q: If you suspect your child has human enterovirus D68, when should you seek treatment?
A: As a general rule of thumb, I would tell parents that you want to assess your children like you would during cold and flu season. If they have basic cold symptoms and feel fine otherwise, there’s probably no need to seek additional attention. But if your child ends up with severe breathing difficulty, that is a reason to be seen because we can offer supportive treatments to help those patients through the illness. You should always call your family doctor if you have any concerns.
Q: What can people do to protect themselves from getting human enterovirus D68?
A: The most of important thing is to do all those things that we normally do to prevent the spread of illness. If you have a cough, congestion or a runny nose, make sure that you maintain proper hand hygiene, cover your mouth with your sleeve or a tissue when coughing, avoid other people, especially other people who are sick, while you are sick to avoid spreading it, and sanitize surfaces. You really should exercise these precautions regardless of whether or not you have an underlying illness or medical condition.