What You Need To Know About Enterovirus 68

Jayden Broadway, 9, is treated at Children's Hospital Colorado for Enterovirus 68, September 8, 2014.
Jayden Broadway, 9, is treated at Children's Hospital Colorado for Enterovirus 68, September 8, 2014.  Cyrus McCrimmon / Denver Post / Getty Images

With the first confirmed death from Enterovirus 68 — also known as EV-D68 — of 4-year old Eli Waller in Hamilton, New Jersey, news about the infection is everywhere. This fall, the virus reportedly sent hundreds of children to the hospital for respiratory illness and though experts say it most likely won’t kill you or your child, you should still be cautious and keep an eye out for its symptoms. Here’s what you need to know.

There have been hundreds of cases this year and one death.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 628 cases of EV-D68 in 43 states and Washington D.C. as of October 6 — all in children except for one adult. So far, Eli Waller is the first and only child whose death the CDC links directly to EV-D68. The virus was found in four other children who died, but the CDC is unsure whether their deaths were directly caused by EV-D68.

The virus has been around for decades.
Researchers first identified EV-D68 in 1962 California, but this is the first big outbreak we know of, says Rosenthal.

Children are more likely to get impacted by EV-D68 than adults.
Both adults and children can get the virus, but kids aged 6 months to 16 years are more prone to its most severe symptoms — like having trouble breathing — because adults have built up their immune systems over time. “The deal is if you’re older, you were probably exposed to some enterovirus and you have some sort of immunity,” says Phil Rosenthal, a professor of pediatric surgery at the University of California San Francisco. That’s because enterovirus — an umbrella term for about 100 viruses out of which this is just one — is actually pretty common and harmless when mild, but children haven’t had the chance to build immunity through exposure yet, making them more vulnerable.

The symptoms to look out for are all respiratory.
The symptoms and consequences of EV-D68 vary, says Rosenthal. Mild symptoms look just like the flu — think a fever, runny nose, cough or body aches — but it’s the severe symptoms that you should keep a close eye on. Those include breathing problems like wheezing or coughing—and that’s when people get in trouble. “If your child is having trouble breathing, that’s concerning,” says Rosenthal.

It’s hard to tell if you or your child has EV-D68 or just a fever without testing by the CDC or a health department (through a blood test or saliva), so Rosenthal advises parents to get immediate attention if their child is having prolonged fever or pain, and develops respiratory difficulties.

EV-D68 spreads like the flu.
EV-D68 is spread like the flu — when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches a surface that’s then touched by another person, the virus can be spread. That’s because EV-D68 is a respiratory illness, spread primarily through the infected person’s saliva and nasal mucus.

To avoid catching the virus, Rosenthal advises you to wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. “Don’t have close contact with sick people through hugging or kissing, and cover your cough,” he says. “Be careful touching toys and doorknobs, and if you have asthma, make sure you have your flu vaccine shot.” If you’re having trouble breathing, he adds, you should be seen right away.

See a doctor if you suspect the symptoms.
If a parent sees their child with prolonged symptoms or problems breathing, Rosenthal says they should visit their healthcare provider — especially if they don’t have history of asthma. But if they can’t get a hold of their pediatrician at late hours in the night, you shouldn’t hesitate to visit the emergency room. “The virus can be deadly — for the majority it’s not, but if anyone is having respiratory difficulty, you will need immediate attention,” he says.