Credit: CÃ©cile Graat
Americans are seemingly affected by Ebola fear since there have been thousands of deaths in Liberia from the terrible disease. Ebola has dominated the news in recent weeks. Such fears need to be kept in check, however, as there is another disease, Enterovirus D68, that is a threat because children are especially susceptible to it, and it has no known cure.
Currently, in the United States, there has only been one death from Ebola, Thomas Eric Duncan. He traveled to the U.S. with the disease, not knowing that he had it. Two health care workers who helped care for Mr. Duncan are now battling the disease and are in stable condition. Enterovirus D68, by contrast, has contributed to the death of four people. In addition, from August to mid October, the CDC has confirmed a total of 825 people in 46 states with Enterovirus D68.
What is Enterovirus D68?
EV-D68 is only one of over 100 non-polio viruses. The virus has been around since 1962, but has reared its ugly head once again. Influenza is always a threat for people, especially children and the elderly. Fortunately there are vaccines that can help protect against most strains of influenza. Though the CDC has created a faster lab test to diagnose EV-D68, there is no vaccine against it or a known cure for it. The virus causes a respiratory illness that is spread via nasal mucous, saliva, and any respiratory secretions when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It can also be spread if an infected person touches surfaces that others then touch.
Because they don’t yet have immunity to such a virus, infants, children, and teenagers are more at risk for acquiring the disease. Children with asthma and other respiratory impairments are even more susceptible. They are more likely to contract the disease in summer and fall. Though, like most viruses, the number of reported cases of Enterovirus D68 begins to decline by the end of autumn.
How is it Diagnosed and Treated?
The virus is diagnosed via specific laboratory tests on samples taken from a patient’s throat and nose. Though most hospitals have the capability to test someone for an enterovirus illness, they cannot specifically test to determine if it is the EV-D68 strain. Only the Center for Disease Control has that capability, and, thankfully, the CDC has created a faster diagnostic laboratory test.
There is currently no treatment, other than treating symptoms, or any anti-viral medication to cure Enterovirus D68. Many with severe cases require hospitalization.
What Protections are to Minimize Risk of Exposure?
Symptoms of the EV-D68 virus include sneezing, coughing, runny nose, fever, and muscle aches. This can be confusing, however, as other viruses can present with the same symptoms. More severe symptoms to watch for are wheezing and difficulty breathing.
There are basic steps that parents and children can practice to help avoid exposure to the virus or contracting it.
- Washing hands thoroughly and frequently is paramount. Use soap and water and wash for a minimum of 20 seconds. Many parents teach their children to continue washing their hands for as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song.
- Avoid touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. It is especially important not to touch those areas with unwashed hands.
- Cover sneezes and coughs with a tissue or shirt sleeve and not with the hands. Many parents teach their children the Dracula technique for covering a cough or sneeze. The Dracula technique means to cover the cough or sneeze with the inner side of one’s elbow, a movement suggestive of Dracula as he begins to wrap or throw his cape across his face.
- When someone in the home is sick, it is important to thoroughly clean and disinfect frequently touched areas. If day care centers and schools had the manpower and time to do that, as well, that would significantly reduce the risk of exposure to any virus that may be making the rounds in the classrooms.
- Avoid any close contact with sick people. There should be no kisses, hugs, handshakes, or sharing of drinking and eating utensils at this time.
- People should stay home when they are sick so as not to put co-workers at risk. Parents should not send children who are sick to school. Sick children being sent to school is what causes virus to spread throughout the school and make other children vulnerable to illness.
In summary, even though there is not yet a vaccination against or a cure for EV-D68, common sense and basic cleanliness and health precautions can reduce the risk of exposure.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used for diagnosis or to guide treatment without the opinion of a health professional. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a doctor for advice.