Experts discuss cause, prevention for Enterovirus D68
In late September, a 4-year-old boy died of a virus overshadowed in the media by the Ebola crisis, marking the first New Jersey-related death from Enterovirus D68, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
The virus, which is thought to be spread by hand contact, like rubbing one’s eyes or nose and then reaching for commonly-touched items like doorknobs, is circulating around the nation, said George Rhoads, interim dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health.
There is no vaccine for the virus, so Rhoads said good hygiene is important to minimize its spread.
While hand washing is very important, hand sanitizer does not kill EV-D68 because it kills bacteria, not the virus. He also stressed not sharing utensils.
“I think people should pay special attention to washing their hands, trying to keep surfaces clean that are constantly used by people and good personal hygiene,” Rhoads said.
Many cases of this particular strain of Enterovirus (which has more than 100 strains,) were found this past summer in Kansas City and Chicago. The virus has been reported with increasing frequency around the world for the past three or four years.
A common symptom of the virus is respiratory issues, Rhoads said. Many of the reported cases have been in young children due to poor hygiene habits.
Dawn Thomas, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Health, said in an email that parents should be aware of the symptoms of EV-D68 and know the steps to protect themselves and their children from all types of Enterovirus, in addition to influenza and rhinovirus.
“EV-D68 can cause mild to severe respiratory illness,” she said. “Mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body and muscle aches. Severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing.”
Washing hands for 20 seconds and avoiding kissing, hugging and sharing utensils with those who are sick are preventative measures. Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces like toys and doorknobs is also useful.
According to the Middlesex County Office of Health Services, EV-D68 is most likely to infect infants, children and teenagers because they do not have immunity due to prior exposure to the virus.
Children with asthma have an especially high risk for severe respiratory illness, according to the Office of Health Services. Adults can become infected, but they are likely to show mild symptoms, or none at all.
Antibiotics will have no effect on EV-D68, but according to the Office of Health Services, most people do not require treatment at all.
In addition to staying up to date with immunizations, including the flu shot, good hand hygiene is important for anyone who comes into contact with feces, as that is where Enterovirus is found, according to the Office of Health Services.
The Middlesex County Office of Health Services has provided educational material to local school districts within the county to inform the community about EV-D68. They continue to monitor the situation by keeping up constant communication with the New Jersey Department of Health, local health departments, hospitals, schools and daycare providers.
The majority of those infected by EV-D68 do not get severely ill, Rhoads said, so people should not overreact.
“The media, sometimes, they are always trying to write things in a way that attracts people’s interest, so they tend to somewhat emphasize the risks because that catches people’s attention,” he said. “In some sense that’s good because it makes people pay attention.”
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