Whether it be seasonal allergies or the flu, the start of school is accompanied by an inevitable spate of colds easily spread in communal areas.
Any sickness should be taken seriously because it can escalate at any time and knock someone out for days, or worse, land them in the hospital. That’s why reports of a respiratory illness sending hundreds of children to the emergency room and some to intensive care units are concerning, especially when alleged cases are showing up as far east as Ohio and Kentucky.
To date, the virus — only known as enterovirus D68 — has affected more than 300 Missourians. Ten other mid-west states are investigating cases and have sought help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the type of virus is common — intense summer colds are usually caused by enteroviruses, which are related to the rhinovirus that causes the common cold — health officials are alarmed by the number of hospitalizations. One CDC official said it could be “just the tip of the iceberg.”
First identified in the 1960s, enterovirus D68 has had fewer than 100 reported cases in the past 50 years. Health officials saw a resurgence of the virus last year and have yet to isolate the recent flare-up’s cause.
Like colds, the virus spreads through close contact. It usually isn’t deadly, but it can cause wheezing and shortness of breath, which could be dangerous for children with asthma or other respiratory ailments.
Contracting the virus and preventing its spread is simple though. The CDC says basic sanitary practices should be used, like washing hands, avoiding sick people and covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing. Those with asthma should make sure their inhaler is accessible.
It remains to be seen whether the cases in Ohio and Kentucky are indeed caused by enterovirus D68 or whether it could spread into West Virginia.
There is no vaccine. Treatment, as long as the infection doesn’t escalate, is the same for a common cold.