What is Enterovirus D68?

By: Dr. Jodi Ledford, CRMS Pediatrician

 Why is the Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) such big news? Mainly because it is an uncommon strain of a common respiratory virus.  But also, because it has been most severely affecting children with a history of asthma and it is highly contagious - being spread the same way as the common cold and flu, through secretions and body fluids. 

 The change in season brings with it a change in the types of infections seen in the general population. Two of the most common pathogens (germs) that cause illnesses in people are bacteria and viruses. Generally, people infected with bacteria can successfully be treated with antibiotics. However, viral infections, such as EV-D68, cannot be treated with antibiotics and will usually have to run their natural course.  EV-D68 causes symptoms that include fever (≥ 100.4 º), runny nose, sneezing, cough, wheezing, difficulty breathing and body or muscle aches. 

Currently, we are heading into the cold/flu season which makes people more likely to become infected. In general, elderly individuals, pregnant females, infants, young children and those with asthma are at the highest risk for viral infections.  But, anyone may get a viral infection when they come into contact with infected secretions and then touch their eyes, mouths or noses.

 EV-D68 can only be diagnosed with specific laboratory tests done by the Center for Disease Control.  Specimens collected from a patient’s nose or throat is sent away for evaluation. Thus far, there have been no confirmed cases of EV-D68 in the State of Maine.

 This disease cannot be prevented by vaccination and if contracted, there are no specific treatments to combat its effect.  Treatment focuses on the symptoms of the infected individual. Not every child exposed to this virus requires treatment. Only those that develop severe breathing problems are hospitalized. However, appropriate use of over-the-counter medicines can treat fever and muscle aches. Do not give aspirin to children as this would cause more harm.

 Since EV-D68 causes symptoms similar to the common cold or the flu, the following precautions* can help keep you and your family from getting and giving any and all infections this cold and flu season.

-Get vaccinated for the things that are preventable like Influenza, and avoid close contact with sick people

-Avoid attending crowded events and places as much as possible during peak cold and flu season.

-Cover your coughs and sneezes by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a disposable tissue, do not cover your cough with your hand.

-Wash your hands often with soap and running water for at least 30 seconds; use of an alcohol based sanitizer may not be sufficient.

-Clean and disinfect surfaces often, especially areas that are touched frequently. (Computer key boards, telephones, toys, remote controls, door knobs and handles, pens and pencils etc.)

-Avoid touching your face and eyes with unwashed hands

-Avoid sharing cups and utensils. Avoid kissing anyone that you feel may be contagious.

-Get sufficient rest and drink lots of fluids

-Stay home from work/shopping when sick and do not send a sick child to school.

- If there is difficulty breathing, see your provider as soon as possible

*Adopted from the CDC’s website about Enterovirus D68

Jodi Ledford, M.D., F.A.A.P. is a pediatrician at Calais Regional Medical Services.