(WXIN) – Doctors across the United States have seen an increase in children of a respiratory virus that can cause polio-like muscle weakness.
In most cases, enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) causes respiratory disease with mild symptoms. It can, however, lead to a condition called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) which can cause inflammation of the spinal cord. Those who suffer from AFM may find it difficult to move their arms while others experience muscle weakness. In severe cases, this can lead to respiratory failure or life-threatening neurological complications.
According to an alert issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, pediatric hospitalizations are on the rise among patients with severe respiratory illnesses who have tested positive for rhinovirus (RV) and/or enterovirus (EV). . Some of the patients also tested positive for EV-D68 – and hospital sites are reporting a higher proportion of EV-D68 patients compared to previous years.
This isn’t the first time the EV-D68 has caused problems. In 2014, an outbreak of enterovirus D68 was reported in several states. The outbreak has involved nearly 1,400 people, although an undercount is highly likely as many of those with mild symptoms have not been tested.
Increased activity was also reported in 2016 and 2018, with lower traffic in 2020 likely due to COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Between July 2022 and August 2022, the number of detected cases of EV-D68 was higher than the period of the previous three years (2019, 2020 and 2021). Although the CDC has not seen an increase in AFM reports, an increase in AFM cases typically follows an increase in EV-D68 cases, the agency said.
The CDC alert asks providers to consider EV-D68 as a possible cause of respiratory disease in children and warns of a potential increase in cases in the coming weeks. Common symptoms of EV-D68 include coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Fever is present in about half of known cases.
“On rare occasions, EV-D68 can cause AFM,” the CDC noted in its alert. “This rare but serious neurological condition mainly affects children and usually manifests as sudden limb weakness.”
According to the CDC, signs of AFM include:
- weakness in arms or legs
- pain in the neck, back, arms or legs
- difficulty swallowing or slurred speech
- difficulty moving your eyes or droopy eyelids
- drooping or facial weakness
The agency noted that there were no specific vaccines or treatments available.
Infants, children and adolescents are most susceptible to infection. Those with asthma may be at higher risk of developing severe cases of EV-D68.
The CDC urges the public to follow typical preventive measures:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups or utensils with sick people and when you are sick
- Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or the top of your shirt sleeve, not your hands
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
- Stay home when you are sick
- Consider wearing a mask around other people if you have respiratory symptoms
- Contact a health care provider immediately if you or your child have difficulty breathing or develop sudden limb weakness
- Make sure you or your child have an up-to-date asthma action plan if you or your child have asthma
- Stay up to date with all recommended vaccines
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