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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rare Respiratory Illness affecting Children is spreading, a dozen states so far

States with confirmed cases are Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania

By Mark Berman | The Washington Post | September 16, 2014

The rare respiratory illness affecting children has now been confirmed in a dozen states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
Will Cornejo, 13, recovers at a Denver hospital. (Cyrus McCrimmon/Denver Post)
The two newest states with confirmed cases: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, which join a growing roster of states that officially have cases of enterovirus 68, a rare virus strain that can cause severe breathing problems.
Hospitals around the country are seeing an increase in the number of children dealing with respiratory illnesses. Testing has shown that many of these children are suffering from this enterovirus strain. Enteroviruses are quite common, causing between 10 million and 15 million infections each year, but this particular strain has not appeared very often since it was first isolated in California in 1962.
So far, the other states with confirmed cases are Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and New York. There have been 130 confirmed cases, the CDC says, but the number of actual cases is likely much higher.
Public health officials continue to warn that other states are presumably going to join this list, with cases expected to be confirmed in other places where there have been clusters of children suffering from respiratory illnesses. There are suspected cases in Georgia and Michigan. At least two other states — Ohio and Utah — have no confirmed cases yet, but health officials have told The Post they suspect that they have cases of the virus.
The CDC expects that the number of infections is going to drop later in the year. Most enterovirus infections in the United States occur in the summer and fall, so these infections are coming at a typical time for enteroviruses, Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.
Only children have been confirmed to have the virus so far, as they lack the immunity that comes from being exposed to a disease, according to the CDC. The virus spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. (There is no vaccine, so health officials encourage people to follow the usual common-sense guidelines: Wash your hands, avoid excessive contact with sick people, that sort of thing. Here’s the advice in infographic form.)
As for why it is taking so long to confirm all of the places seeing this virus, that stems from issues with the testing that is required. Health officials say testing for this particular strain can only be done by the CDC and at a certain number of other laboratories. States are sending their specimens to the CDC for testing, which has created a backlog.
Still, even as the number of states with confirmed cases rises, it’s important to remember that these confirmations don’t necessarily mean the virus has suddenly cropped up in these places without warning. Some states told us after submitting specimens to the CDC for testing that they expected it could take weeks to hear results.
And cases may be confirmed after the number of afflicted children seeking treatment has decreased. Consider Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., which reported treating nearly 500 children for respiratory illnesses since last month. Mary Anne Jackson, director of the hospital’s infectious diseases division, said she believes between 70 and 90 percent of these children had the rare strain.
Jackson said that the number of children coming in with respiratory illnesses peaked during the latter third of August. “We really were inundated with cases at that point,” she said. The daily number of cases began declining in September.
She said there is no need for public panic, because most illnesses relating to this strain will be akin to a common cold. But as Jackson pointed out, it is still likely the number of states with cases will increase.
“The way this virus spreads, kid to kid, it’s likely if it’s in 12 states it will be in more than 12 states over the next several weeks,” she said last week.

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