In July and early August, doctors at Children's Healthcare
of Atlanta diagnosed 15 to 20 children a week with serious respiratory
infections -- a normal number for the summer months. Then, pediatricians
started to see more children who were having trouble breathing, more parents
with worried looks on their faces.
More than 10 states around the Midwest and Southeast have
reported seeing similarly high numbers of hospitalizations for children with
severe respiratory illnesses. The virus has sent more than 30 children a day to
a Kansas City, Missouri, hospital, where about 15% of the youngsters were
placed in intensive care, health officials said.
Doctors say they think the increase is due to a bug called Enterovirus
D68, an uncommon type of enterovirus that seems to be exacerbating breathing
problems in children with asthma. But nailing down the culprit, and tracking
the number of cases, is easier said than done.
Children's Healthcare, like most hospitals around the
nation, tests samples from children with respiratory illnesses to determine if
they have a viral infection. But the tests don't distinguish between the
rhinovirus, which is the most common cause of the common cold, and enteroviruses,
which can cause a variety of symptoms.
Once hospitals noticed this upward trend in severe
respiratory illness cases, they requested help from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in identifying the specific virus at fault. Children's
Healthcare of Atlanta is working with the Georgia Department of Public Health
to submit specimens to the CDC, which is already testing samples from states
like Alabama, Utah and Michigan.
The problem is that there are more than 60 enteroviruses
that are known to infect humans, according to the CDC; these viruses cause
an estimated 10 million to 15 million illnesses each year. Symptoms can range
from the sniffles to stomach issues to a severe respiratory infection.
The average healthy adult gets two to three colds a year,
the CDC says; children usually get more. They're more at risk because their
immune systems haven't had a chance to build up immunity to these common viral
The CDC doesn't require state health departments to track
these types of infections, since they are usually dealt with at home and
patients recover with a little TLC. So getting a firm count of the number of
people infected -- or what other states may be at risk -- for EV-D68 is
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