What to know about Enterovirus D68

labBy now you’ve heard the news: a virus is sending more and more children to the hospital with coughing and breathing problems that are often severe. That virus is Enterovirus D68 and it’s just one strain of Enteroviruses, which cause colds, fever, headaches, vomiting and rashes among other symptoms. Most Enterovirus infections are common; they cause roughly 10 to 15 million infections every year.

D68 is an unusual strain, however.

Not only is it much less common than other Enteroviruses, it can cause especially bad respiratory illnesses, including a bad cough and difficulty breathing. In some cases, children and other patients with D68 have needed ICU-level care and the assistance of a mechanical ventilator. D68 can be especially dangerous for children with existing lung problems (like asthma) or who have weaker immune systems (like newborns).

The Centers for Disease Control are monitoring the situation closely. Like any other virus, D68 spreads from person to person through bodily fluids—think saliva and snot—as well as through sneezes, handshakes, changing diapers and many other kinds of interactions.

Although D68 seems to affect children more than adults, it may be that adults who become infected show much less severe symptoms. There are no vaccines or antiviral therapies for D68 and care is supportive, meaning that all hospitals can do is provide relief for the symptoms. So it’s important that adults who are around children take precautions to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds
  • Don’t share cups or utensils without washing them carefully
  • Wipe down shared surfaces and objects like toys and doorknobs
  • Save the hugs and kisses for later; keep a reasonable distance from the sick
  • Make sure your child knows to never cover coughs and sneezes with their hands
  • If your child has asthma or another lung disease, make sure they’re taking their medication

To better prepare families, Boston Children’s Hospital has created an educational sheet that outlines what EV-D68 is and what families should do to avoid exposure. The information can be found here on our website.

For more information about D68, visit the CDC at www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/about/EV-D68.html.