WATCH: A rare and serious respiratory illness that has affected hundreds of children across the United States is spreading at an alarming rate and it’s feared it will cross the border into Canada. Jackson Proskow has the details.
TORONTO – A rare respiratory virus is sending hundreds of U.S. kids to the emergency room. But is enterovirus D68 a concern to Canadian health authorities?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that EV-D68 is making its way across at least 12 states in the Midwest, with many more regions monitoring their hospitals for the virus.
The affected states called on the CDC for help in investigating clusters of outbreaks.
A single Kansas City, Missouri, hospital is seeing more than 30 children a day for enterovirus – 15 per cent of the kids end up in intensive care, the CDC says.
While it’s typical for the obscure bug to make an appearance in the fall, its presence and severity this time around is unprecedented.
“Hospitalizations are higher than would be expected at this time of year,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s head of infectious diseases, said at a press briefing.
“The situation is evolving quickly.”
What are enteroviruses?
Enteroviruses are a group of viruses comprised of more than 100 different types of strains, according to Canadian microbiologist and author Jason Tetro.
“Each one has a particular structure and, as a result, a different function,” he told Global News.
Only a handful affect humans. Enterovirus D68 happens to be one of them.
(Other enteroviruses that are frequently seen in Canada include Coxsackie A19 and EV-71, which has caused outbreaks of hand-foot-and-mouth disease in kids.)
In healthy adults, enterovirus wouldn’t lead to any serious concerns, but it’s young kids who are most vulnerable – especially if they have additional respiratory issues.
READ MORE: How do you treat the common cold? Here’s what works and what doesn’t
“It’s just like the common cold and normally that’s about all that you get. However, in some cases it can deepen into a pneumonia and there’s even a possibility of the virus going into the blood,” Tetro explained.
It spreads just like the flu – through coughing, sneezing or close contact with infected patients.
Its rarity lies in its cycle. It doesn’t evolve as quickly as, say, the seasonal influenza so we only see waves of EV-D68 every few years.
North America may be entering a wave of enterovirus now, but it might not re-emerge for another five years to a decade. In this case, it started in the Philippines in 2009; clusters were then reported in New York City that year, the Netherlands by 2010 and it spread around the world from there, Tetro said.
WATCH: Global National health specialist Dr. Ali Zentner explains the symptoms of enterovirus and how concerned parents should be.
If your child is sick, pay attention to his or her symptoms, the experts advise. You can tell it’s beyond the common cold if he or she is having difficult or forced breathing.
READ MORE: Telling the difference between cold and flu symptoms
“The place where people should be more mindful is for kids who are getting sick quicker or in children who have other respiratory compromises where they would need medical attention sooner,” Dr. Ali Zentner told Global News.
If your child has a respiratory illness, such as asthma, the effects are going to be worse. A majority of the kids who tested positive for the virus in the U.S. had asthma. The doctors there urged parents to make sure their kids are staying on top of their medication routine.
Is EV-D68 on Canadian officials’ radar?
The Public Health Agency of Canada says EV-D68 is seen in Canada and, for the most part, is linked to mild respiratory infections and cold-like symptoms.
Because it’s so similar to the common cold, testing is required to confirm what the infection is. PHAC says it conducts tests upon requests from provincial health bodies. Since 1999, it’s identified 82 cases of EV-D68 in the country.
The federal agency says there hasn’t been an outbreak in Canada – there also have not been any hotspots popping up for the virus.
“There is no reason to suggest that this is an emerging infection that is increasing in incidence in Canada,” Robert Cyrenne, a PHAC communications officer, told Global News in a statement.
“Canadians should not be concerned but all Canadians are encouraged to take proper measures to protect themselves against the common cold and flu…,” he said.
Wash your hands, cough into your sleeve and stay home if you’re sick, he advised.
In the meantime, the agency is in close contact with U.S. public health officials. It has also worked with the Canadian Paediatric Society since February 2014 in advising pediatricians to watch for any cases when they started to surface in the U.S.
Read more about the CDC’s enterovirus updates here.