Enterovirus D68 has sickened four children, ages two to 13, in San Diego and Ventura counties, the California Department of Public Health reported Thursday. These are the first cases of the virus reported in the state; it had already surfaced in more than a dozen others.
All four of the kids arrived at the hospital with wheezing and difficulty breathing, and were hospitalized in pediatric intensive care units, said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez. They have since been discharged from the hospital and are doing well, he said, adding that the four cases were unrelated.
Three of the four children have asthma, which increased their risk of severe respiratory symptoms, Chavez added.
The Department of Public Health has been monitoring for the disease since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this month that the virus was circulating in the midwestern United States. The Department is currently testing other specimens, and expects to find more cases in the coming weeks.
Enterovirus D68 likely spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches contaminated surfaces, according to the Department of Public Health. Symptoms of the virus include fever (although it may not be present), as well as runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches. Some children, especially those with a history of asthma, may also experience wheezing and trouble breathing.
In general, infants, children and teenagers are most likely to be sickened by enteroviruses, according to the CDC. There's no vaccine against the virus, and no specific treatment for it.
The CDC has produced this FAQ about enterovirus D68.
The Department of Public Health has these recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus:
- Wash hands often, with soap and water, for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers;
- Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
- Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick;
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick;
- Get a flu shot.
Since children with asthma who contract the virus are at greater risk of having a more severe respiratory illness, Chavez offered special advice for the parents of asthmatic kids: "First and foremost, that asthma needs to be under control."
He emphasized that parents must be vigilant if their asthmatic child develops a respiratory infection.
"You have to be particularly careful that that infection does not linger, and worsen over time," he said. "Because at the early signs of that happening, you really should take the kid to be evaluated, and make sure there's not an infection like this one that needs to be managed differently."