Enterovirus D68 is like common cold with a new name, more publicity
BY JOEY HOLLEMAN
The death of a 10-year-old Rhode Island girl, the first confirmed fatality to be associated with enterovirus D68, will ramp up fears of the previously rare strain, though many health care workers have tried to calm those concerns.
Dr. Guy Castles, a pediatrician in Columbia, refers to D68 as the “newspaper virus” because of the media attention it has received. That’s not to dismiss it, but Castles and other health care professionals provide parents and patients with a reality check.
• Enterovirus D68 is similar to most cold viruses. “The truth of the matter is it does not make a whit of difference what the name is, it doesn’t change our treatment,” Castles said. The standard prescription is for rest, fluids and bulb suctioning of mucus for the very young patients.
• D68 is bad news for kids with other health issues. As in any respiratory virus case, children with other underlying health issues might need special attention. The child who died in Rhode Island also had the bacterial disease, staphylococcus aureus sepsis. Castles said he sent a child with more breathing problems related to enterovirus to the hospital Tuesday, but most of his many patients with the virus are sent home and have done fine. Castles is seeing four or five children a day with enterovirus symptoms, though all of those don’t necessarily have the D68 strain.
• The timing of the D68 outbreak is unusual. Typically, one of these types of viruses hits as kids return to school, and another starts in South Carolina around the middle of October. D68 started in the Midwest in August and seemed to hit South Carolina in September. The first lab confirmed tests for D68 in South Carolina were announced this week. Dr. Anna-Kathryn Rye, a pediatric infections disease specialist at University Specialty Clinics, said enterovirus hospitalizations at Palmetto Health from this wave appears to have peaked and be on their way down.
• More dangerous viruses are on the way. The more troublesome respiratory syncytial virus (commonly referred to as RSV) and influenza put nearly 200,000 people in hospitals nationwide each year. RSV most commonly arrives about this time, followed by flu in late fall or early winter. “I wish everybody would focus on influenza as much as they are on D68,” Rye said, “because there’s something you can do about influenza.” Parents freaking out about D68 should turn that concern into a trip to the doctor or pharmacy for flu shots for everyone in their family over six months old.
• Take precautions to slow the spread. The most important way to avoid viruses is to wash hands frequently and thoroughly. And it’s critical for parents to keep sick children at home to keep them from infecting other. A light cough and sniffles by themselves should raise awareness, said Jessica Porter, state director of the S.C. School Nurses Association. If those symptoms are paired with high fever, body aches and a lack of appetite, please don’t send that child to school.
In announcing the Rhode Island death, the director of that state’s health department had much the same tone as health care workers in South Carolina.
“We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island’s children,” Dr. Michael Fine said before stressing the reality. “Many of us will have EV-D68 [enterovirus 68]. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely.”