Enterovirus D68: What are the symptoms – and how is it spread?

Doctors are still getting to grips with the disease which claimed its first victim on Saturday

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Nearly 600 patients, mostly children, have been diagnosed with the severe respiratory disease enterovirus D68 in 43 states across the United States.

With reports of the first recorded fatality emerging from Hamilton, New Jersey, following the death of four-year-old Eli Walter, US medical authorities are still coming to grips with the virus.

Teachers and parents are being told to be especially vigilant as initial symptoms can be indistinguishable from normal childhood illnesses.

Eli Thomas Waller, aged 4, of Hamilton Township, who died of enterovirus 68

What is Enterovirus D68?

An enterovirus, generally, is a term that refers to any number of common viruses including the common cold. Enterovirus D68 or EV D68 was first recorded in California in 1962. The Rhode Island Department of Health, where one other child is known to have died from EV 68 in combination with another infection, has said that the illness is linked to foot-and-mouth disease.

Where is it?

It has been recorded now in 43 states across the mainland United States. In August, the virus got more attention when hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago had many children with trouble breathing. Some needed oxygen or more extreme care such as a breathing machine, the Washington Post reported.

What are the symptoms?

The mild symptoms are similar to the common cold, but can progress to wheezing and problems breathing. Infants, children, and teens are most at risk, especially children with asthma, the Rhode Island Department of Health has said. There have also been nine recent case reports of acute neurologic illness, including partial paralysis, as a result of the outbreak.

How is it spread?

The virus is spread through close contact with infected people. Coughs, sneezes and touching objects or surfaces with the virus are common ways to become infected, much like a normal cold.

The Children's Hospital Colorado, which has seen 10 patients with respiratory enterovirus EV-D68 after an outbreak in the state

Is there a treatment for Enterovirus D68 and does it have long-term effects?

There is no treatment for the virus or any anti-viral medicine, but luckily most cases are not fatal. Intensive treatment and supportive care, including oxygen, can help. On average, patients are hospitalised with the illness for one to five days. Most children recover with no lasting problems.