Uncommon Virus Suspected in Severe Respiratory Illness in a Dozen States

A 1981 micrograph depicting the enterovirus (EV-70) causing acute hemorrhagic conjunctivitis / CDC/Dr. Erskine Palmer
Janet Fang 10 Sep 2014, 19:17

Thirty cases of an uncommon virus causing severe respiratory illness have been confirmed in two states so far this summer, and nearly a dozen other states have contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about suspected cases as well. 

Pathogens known as non-polio enteroviruses, which spread through close contact, are very common viruses that cause up to 15 million infections in the U.S. every year. Most people who are infected don’t get sick, or they’d get common cold symptoms. But children and people with compromised immune systems have a much greater chance of complications like paralysis or even neurological illnesses.

Compared with other enteroviruses, Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) has been rarely reported in the U.S. for the last four decades -- not since it was first identified in California in 1962 -- so it’s less studied, and researchers haven’t defined the full spectrum of its symptoms. Between 2009 and 2013, there were 79 reported cases. The virus is found in respiratory secretions like saliva and mucus, and there’s no specific antiviral treatment for it.

In August of this year, the CDC was alerted by local hospitals to clusters of severe respiratory illness in children living in Kansas City and Chicago. EV-D68 infections were confirmed in 19 of the Missouri cases and 11 of the Illinois cases, according to the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released on Monday. The patients in those two clusters ranged in age from six weeks to 16 years old, and over half of the patients have a previous history of asthma or wheezing. Everyone is expected to get better.

Ten other states are also investigating similar clusters of respiratory illness that might be caused by EV-D68. The CDC has already been contacted by Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah. 

“The situation is evolving quickly,” CDC’s Ann Schuchat told reporters in a press briefing on Monday. “CDC and our colleagues are gathering information to better understand EV-D68 and the illness caused by this virus, how widespread infections may be and which populations are most affected, and whether other states are experiencing severe respiratory illness perhaps due to this virus.”

Schuchat added: “If you're concerned that your child is having difficulty breathing, you want to make sure that you contact their healthcare provider. Most of the runny noses out there are not going to be turning into this.”

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