General Health & Wellness • Oct 09, 2014

Enterovirus D-68: Is it more dangerous than we thought?

Little girl blows her noseIf you weren’t afraid of this rapidly spreading cold virus before, you might be now. This persistent and now prevalent virus continues to make headlines. The has intensified its focus on enterovirus in recent weeks. Now, a young boy has tragically and unexpectedly lost his life while infected with enterovirus D-68. No other cause for his death was found. Children are mysteriously developing paralysis without obvious cause.

Last month in my blog post about enterovirus I attempted to clarify information about this respiratory virus and what it really means for your kids. I thought it might be helpful to write a bit more about some of the headlines.

First, nothing that we know of has changed about this virus. It is still, except in rare cases, a cold. It is as simple as that. Children with certain risk factors are more likely to develop breathing difficulties, and may need extra support or medications until they can recover.  None of this is different.

Second, our perception of danger is altered by the amount of attention being given to this virus. Thousands of children have recovered from this virus. Most never even knew they had it. This virus, which has now been circulating across the US for about four months, has officially been reported as the cause of one death. Yes, it is absolutely a huge loss and a terrible tragedy. Influenza and the RSV viruses, which are present in our communities every year, take far more lives with far less press coverage. We will never know if there was something slightly different about that sweet 4 year-old and his body’s response to the illness that resulted in his death. We do know that his story is very atypical for this infection.

Third, the reports of multiple children across the US with an illness that causes them to have muscle weakness or paralysis adds a new twist to the illnesses which are affecting our children. Physicians across the country, and right here in our own hospital, are working tirelessly to figure out if there is a connection to the enterovirus D-68 strain so many are concerned about right now. However, although many children with respiratory illness have tested positive for enterovirus, most of the children with muscle weakness and paralysis problems have not. Researchers are looking at this while trying to identify if a new virus could be causing these symptoms. In any case, the numbers are small, and just because they are on the news does not mean that your child is at any more risk for serious illness than they were in any other year of their life.

Finally, we all worry about our children. We can’t help it. It is part of a parent’s job. Too much worry makes for paranoid and anxious parents, and that is something that we can inadvertently pass on to our kids. They should be focused on growing, playing and being healthy. They will worry enough someday. For now, teach them hand washing, coughing into their elbow, healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits. Get them flu shots. Love them. And when they start to get sick, keep the same cautious eye on them you always have, and call the doctor if you think there is something more than a simple cold going on. Don’t let the media worry you more than it should.

Doctors know more these days than we ever have before, which means that we also know more about what we don’t know. Technology helps us share more information with other physicians and with our patients and their families. That can create unnecessary fear if we don’t keep things in context and in perspective. If your concerns are changing the way you handle your kids or your life, talk to your physician.