CDC: Frightening children’s respiratory virus confirmed in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY -  The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is circulating and causing respiratory illness in Oklahoma.

Although enteroviruses are a common cause of respiratory illness, EV-D68 is a relatively rare type of enterovirus in the United States.

To date, EV-D68 has been confirmed in 11 other states, including Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.

According to the OSDH, the CDC reported ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­seven of 24 specimens submitted from Oklahoma hospitals and laboratories tested positive for the virus.

The testing was initiated because there has been an increase in pediatric admissions at hospitals in the central region of the state.

EV-D68 infection looks very similar to the common cold with most persons showing symptoms of cough, runny nose, body aches, and possibly a fever.

However, in some children the illness can rapidly progress to something more serious where the child has wheezing, difficulty breathing, and difficulty getting enough oxygen into their lungs.

“Children less than 5 years old and children with underlying asthma appear to be at greatest risk of having medical complications from EV-D68 requiring hospitalization,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley. “If a child develops a cold or a cough, parents and caregivers should just watch the child a little more closely to ensure the respiratory infection is running a normal course. If wheezing or asthma-like symptoms develop, medical care should be accessed immediately.”

Medical providers are not required to report suspected cases of the virus to state public health authorities.

Therefore, the number of actual cases in the state cannot be tracked.

There are no specific treatments or vaccines to prevent EV-D68 infections.

People can protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact and sharing cups and eating utensils with people who are sick.
  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as toys, doorknobs and light switches, especially if someone is sick.
  • Staying home when sick.

Recently, an Oklahoma mother believed her child may have contacted the virus.

"I have no idea where it came from and I think that's one of the scariest things," Chickasha resident Skye Custer said Tuesday.

She was recently holding her breath with anxiety, watching her three-year-old son, Caleb, trying to catch his breath.

"He could barely even get a full sentence out because he was having such a hard time breathing," Custer said.

In just a few hours, Caleb's typical cold symptoms - a runny nose and cough - evolved into wheezing.

He was rushed to the ER at Children's Hospital.

"He was having to labor so hard to get a breath that his body would have been absolutely exhausted by morning and it could have gotten a whole lot worse if i hadn't taken him," she said.

"We had a lot of wheezing illnesses, a lot of children who went to the intensive care unit," Dr. Robert Welliver, the Childrens' Hosptial Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease, said.

He wants parents to know - if you hear your child start to have labored breathing, don't wait.

Inhalers and steroids can help the asthma-like symptoms, but there is no magic pill.

"I wish there was something we could do for it, but it's a wheezing illness and so you manage it the same way you do other wheezing illnesses," Welliver said. "The fatality rate is very low, fortunately, and so we'd expect that would stay true and then hopefully everybody is going to get this once and it's going to burn out and not be a problem in the coming years."

Caleb is doing just fine now. Custer said he was treated with inhalers and steroids and is only on allergy medication now.

Dr. Welliver said this virus has been around the world, and children less than five years old, and those with underlying asthma, are at greatest risk.

Find more information about enteroviruses at www.health.ok.gov or www.cdc.gov.