The Enterovirus: What to Know (and Do)
In conversations with parents or teachers, one of the biggest topics right now is the current enterovirus epidemic. What is it and what can we do to keep our kids safe while they're attending school, playing sports, or simply spending time with other kids? Adventure to Fitness is lucky to have some truly world-class medical advisors so I asked them about the infection.
What is the Enterovirus?
The word "enterovirus" actually refers to a group of viruses that typically occur in the gastrointestinal tract, sometimes spreading to the central nervous system or other parts of the body. Many illnesses, such as polio, are caused by enteroviruses.
The strain currently in the news is enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). Since mid-August, the CDC has confirmed around 700 cases of EV-D68 in 46 states plus D.C. A number of enteroviruses circulates each year, generally in summer and fall. This year, though, the number of cases (EV-D68 in particular) has been much greater than previous years.
Who is at risk for EV-D68?
Everyone can be affected but infants, children, and teenagers are more susceptible to this virus because they have not yet developed immunity from prior exposure. Children with asthma may have a higher risk of developing a severe respiratory illness from an EV-D68 infection.
How is it spread and what are the symptoms?
EV-D68 is spread via respiratory secretions, namely saliva, mucus, and sputum (phlegm that's coughed up). Symptoms can include runny nose, sneezing, cough, body and muscle aches, or fever. If your child has these symptoms and you're worried about the virus, you should contact your pediatrician or family medical professional. If your child is having trouble breathing and/or wheezing, doctors recommend that you go directly to the emergency room.
What can we do to prevent it?
Dr. Jenny Delfin of NYU Langone advises that the most important step is actually pretty simple: regularly and correctly washing hands. The virus is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or touches a surface and leaves behind secretions; hand washing can dramatically reduce much of the exposure. Proper hand washing requires soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
A good reminder for young kids is to tell them to sing the "Happy Birthday" song, in its entirety, while they wash their hands. To help your kids learn proper hand washing, download this fun coloring page (pictured above). Besides just EV-D68, hand washing will help protect kids from the flu, common cold, and any number of other viruses.
Dr. Delfin agrees that hand washing is the strongest form of prevention. She recommends that parents follow the other recommendations of the CDC as well, which include avoiding close contact with sick people, covering coughs and sneezes, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, not touching faces with unwashed hands, and staying home when sick.