The Enterovirus sweeping the county has been linked to a death for the first time. Officials have confirmed a Rhode Island child being treated for Enterovirus D68 is dead. In all, 472 people in 41 states have been diagnosed with the illness.
Massachusetts State epidemiologist Dr. Al DeMaria says in most cases the effects of Enterovirus D68 are similar to a mild cold. But by mid-September he and other Bay State doctors were seeing a huge increase in respiratory illnesses among children.
"I think we’re seeing activity all over the state and we’re certainly over the past couple of weeks have gotten specimens from all over the state.”
The state Department of Public Health confirmed the first case of Enterovirus D68 in the Commonwealth last week. The patient was described as a 8-year-old girl from southeastern Massachusetts with a history of asthma, who recovered and was released from the hospital.
Since then Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield has confirmed eight cases of enterovirus D68. That facility has temporarily changed its policies, now only allowing visitors age 14 and older to see children or new mothers. Boston Children’s Hospital says it’s admitted more than 100 patients with symptoms that could be caused by Enterovirus D68.
But what’s causing particular alarm is the possible link between enterovirus D68 and polio-like symptoms like muscle weakness or paralysis. Nine cases of children with those symptoms were reported in Colorado. Dr. Mark Gorman of Boston Children’s Hospital says they’re treating at least four children with those symptoms.
“We don’t know the relationship between D68 and the neurologic symptoms. But if your child is developing any unusual symptoms, particularly weakness, you should seek medical attention.”
Epidemiologist Daniel Feikin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they’re investigating whether the neurologic symptoms are linked to Enterovirus D68.
“It wouldn’t be unheard of that an enterovirus causes an neurologic illness because polio virus is a enterovirus. Now this is not polio virus, polio virus effects the neurological system exclusively. This one mostly causes respiratory illness. But perhaps it can cause neurologic illness in rare cases as well.”
The virus is transferred through things like sneezes, handshakes, and bodily fluids – and the best protection against it is handwashing and staying away from sick people. There’s no treatment and no vaccine. All doctors can do is help patients deal with the symptoms, and collect information about the outbreak, says Tonya Winders of the Allergy & Asthma Network.
“And then hopefully get ahead of it in years to come. The enterovirus has been around since 1962, since we first identified it, but we really haven’t seen this kind of impact in that entire 50 plus years. So I think it’s interesting that we have this infection at this time.”
Many doctors offices can test for the possibility of an enterovirus, but not specifically D68, so samples are being sent to the CDC. The CDC says as the backlog of specimens is processed, the number of confirmed cases will probably rise – and that might make it look like the situation is getting worse, while in fact it’s just becoming clearer.