Family health

4 facts about the respiratory virus (update)

The headline-making respiratory virus (Enterovirus D68) is in Canada. Here's the latest update on what parents need to know.

Respiratory virus D68

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[Update Oct 3:] Muscle weakness and paralysis are the latest symptoms being investigated in connection with enterovirus D68. Cases of paralysis following a respiratory virus have been reported in Toronto, Hamilton and Alberta. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s chief medical officer, said in a statement that it’s not uncommon for EV-D68 to cause mild inflammation of the spinal cord, which could result in temporary paralysis. But the take-home message is the same: In the majority of cases, this virus (and others similar) looks like the common cold and should be treated as such. More serious symptoms, like trouble breathing and paralysis, are rare and should be examined by a doctor immediately. 

[Update Sept 24:] More cases of respiratory virus have been cropping up around Ontario and hospital emergency wards are seeing a definitive spike in visits by kids experiencing respiratory symptoms. But it’s no reason to be alarmed. One thing Lindy Samson, doctor at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ottawa and spokesperson for the Canadian Paediatric Society, wants parents to know: Even though enterovirus D68 is the one grabbing headlines, it’s not the only virus out there right now. “There are several enteroviruses circulating at the moment, but you should watch and care for them exactly as you would any other cold,” she says. “Every September, three weeks after school starts, we see a spike in these viruses among kids. This year the activity has increased, though we’re not quite sure why.”

[Original post Sept 17:] There’s a chill in the air, and kids are back to school, sharing lunches, markers and likely germs. Let’s recap the facts on the most recent headline-grabbing respiratory virus.

1. It starts like the common cold but doesn’t commonly get worse
The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) says enterovirus D68 has been around since 1962 but hasn’t been widely reported. Mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body and muscle aches. Experts don’t believe this particular virus has pandemic potential and agree that most people who get the virus do not get very sick.

2. Kids are most at risk
The CDC says infants, children and teens are generally most vulnerable since they haven’t had much previous exposure to these viruses. Most kids who’ve gotten very ill had a history of asthma or wheezing. Parents should seek medical attention if their child’s cold or fever suddenly worsens, if they’re lethargic, wheezing or have trouble breathing. Things to look for, according to Samson: very quick breathing, a look of distress, blue-ish tinge to the lips, and the muscles between the ribs and nostrils flaring with each breath, working hard to pull in air.

3. Cough into elbows, wash hands
This virus looks like the common cold and should be treated as such. Coughing and sneezing are the best ways to spread respiratory viruses, so encourage kids to do both in the crook of their arm and make sure they—and you—wash hands often with soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Also avoid hugging and kissing and sharing cups or utensils with people who are sick and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like toys and doorknobs, especially if someone in the house is sick. For mild respiratory illness, symptoms can be eased with over-the-counter meds for pain and fever. There is no antiviral medication or vaccine for D68.

4. ‘Tis the season for enteroviruses
Summer and fall are the most common times for the spread of these types of viruses, and the CDC says D68 is set to decline later in fall.