The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched an investigation after a respiratory disease hospitalized hundreds of children in Missouri and states throughout the Midwest in recent weeks, according to CNN.
CDC officials have connected the cluster of illnesses to EV-D68, a strain of an intense summer cold-causing enterovirus that often hits its peak in September. The virus — with symptoms that include fever, body and muscle aches, sneezing, cough and rash — poses the greatest risk to children under the age of five and those with asthma.
“It’s worse in terms of scope of critically ill children who require intensive care. I would call it unprecedented,” Mary Anne Jackson, division director for infectious diseases at Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., told CNN. “I’ve practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
Since last month, Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital reportedly admitted more than 400 children for similar illnesses, 60 of whom required intensive therapy. In Colorado, more than 900 children have visited emergency rooms for treatment of the severe respiratory illness. EV-D68 has also been linked to hospitalizations in Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, as well as in the Philippines, Japan, and the Netherlands.
Experts also said the virus played a part in an outbreak of a polio-like disease in California earlier this year. Before the recent outbreak, fewer than 100 cases of EV-D68 have been reported since scientists first identified it in the early 1960s.
“Sequencing results have shown that it’s not a new strain,” Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said during a media telebriefing on Monday.
“EV-D68’s fairly uncommon and we don’t know about it as we know about the other viruses. Several other states are investigating respiratory diseases. Testing is ongoing. The situation is evolving quickly. CDC and our colleagues are gathering information to understand how widespread EV-D68 has become and which populations are affected,” said Schuchat.
No vaccine currently exists for EV-D68. Hospitals across the country have banned children under the age of 12 from visiting from hospital rooms. To further prevent the spread of the virus, state authorities ask that people wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers.
Other precautions to take include not touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or eating utensils with sick people; staying home when sick; and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces such as toys and doorknobs.