The last time we discussed enterovirus about a month ago, it was confined to the Midwest. Now, federal official have confirmed 538 cases in 43 states, although this number is likely a gross underestimate, since most such infections manifest as simple colds. Experts advise parents to seek immediate medical care should their children develop difficulty breathing, chest pain, wheezing or blue lips. Yet, there are a lot of questions surrounding this current outbreak, as it is unlike those of previous years.
The New York Times Anahad O Connor spoke with Dr. Rafal Tokarz, an enterovirus expert from the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University to get some answers. Although enterovirus season runs from late summer to early fall, many people had not heard of it until this year because this year s epidemic virus induces symptoms which are particularly severe. This virus is mostly associated with children because they show more symptoms, which in most cases resemble a severe cold or the flu. However, this year kids are going to the ICU, which is not typical of years past. And several cases have resulted in muscle weakness, paralysis and other polio-like symptoms. This is very rare but it is possible that the virus can cause central nervous system disease. This was seen in two or three children in California last year, although data is inconclusive as to the association between enterovirus and polio-like illness.
Why is this the first time such a large outbreak has been reported? The reason, according to Dr. Tokarz, is that this strain of enterovirus has evolved to become more easily transmissible, meaning it can be passed easily from child to child. So, what should parents be doing to protect their children? The answer is there s not much they can do. There s no vaccine for the virus, but parents should keep children home from school if they re feeling sick and make sure they re washing their hands.
As we said when we covered enterovirus previously, there is no vaccine for enterovirus, but there is a vaccine to protect against the flu. We urge parents to make sure that they and their children receive the flu vaccine, as flu season is upon us. The flu vaccine has the potential to avert hospitalizations and deaths as a result of the virus and it is one of the most important, simple and safe steps a person can take to stay healthy.