A common virus is putting more children in the hospital than in recent years

Jaimy Lee

The enterovirus EV-D68 can cause respiratory diseases or even paralysis. It’s “an important disease and something to watch out for,” says an NYU childhood illness specialist.

A respiratory virus that emerges every two years is causing an increase in child hospitalizations in some parts of the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said earlier this month that more children and adolescents tested positive for a type of enterovirus called EV-D68 in July and August this year than in the same two-month period in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

It also said hospitals in several US regions notified the agency in August of a rising number of hospitalizations of pediatric patients who have tested positive for either rhinovirus or enterovirus.

Of particular concern is EV-D68, which is responsible for a higher proportion of cases this year among those who test positive for either rhinovirus or enterovirus. It causes respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, but can also lead to a skin rash or, in rare cases, serious neurological complications.

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“Children get respiratory illness from the virus, and then limb weakness and, in more severe cases, paralysis of the limbs can occur a few days to weeks afterward,” said Adam Ratner, director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at NYU Langone’s Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. “It’s milder in many ways than what you get with polio without the same long-lasting effects, but it’s still an important disease to watch out for.”

For unknown reasons, EV-D68 reappears every two years in late summer and early fall. It emerged in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020, although the spread of the virus was lower in 2020 due to social distancing and masking requirements in place during the first year of the pandemic. Years of increased EV-D68 activity also saw higher incidences of acute flaccid myelitis, a neurological condition that causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, according to the CDC.

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“Some respiratory viruses have been acting kind of weird post-COVID,” Ratner said. “We saw a very early peak of a virus called RSV. So it wasn’t 100% clear that D68 was scheduled to arrive in late summer/early fall of 2022. But it seems that is exactly what is happening.”

Enteroviruses and rhinoviruses have been around for years, and both can cause cold symptoms. The rhinovirus is the most common cause of colds and can also make asthma worse. Although enteroviruses, which include poliovirus, and rhinoviruses are so similar that they may be “indistinguishable” on tests, clinicians pay close attention to cases of EV-D68, according to the CDC. CDC officials said there has not yet been an increase in cases of acute flaccid myelitis this year, but stressed that “increased vigilance for AFM will be essential in the coming weeks.”

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There are no antiviral treatments or preventive vaccines for EV-D68, but familiar mitigation measures are the best way to prevent infection.

“Washing hands and wearing masks in situations where masks are appropriate, and things like that work for that, too,” Ratner said.

-Jaimy Lee


(ENDS) Dow Jones Newswires

09-23-22 0726ET

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