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Rare Respiratory Ailment Afflicting Children Appears To Be Waning

Cynthia Page

A respiratory ailment that sent some 500 children to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City appears to be tapering off.

The enterovirus D68 can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. At its peak several weeks ago, Children’s Mercy was seeing 30 patients a day. That number has now fallen to about 15 a day, says hospital spokesman Jake Jacobson.

“We seem to have hit the apex a couple of weeks ago,” Jacobson says. “And partly because parents are getting the word out and also just taking precautionary measures, what we’re seeing are more outpatient visits. So folks are coming in with early symptoms and we are able to provide supportive care and they’re able to go home.”

Local public health departments say EV-D68 can cause difficulty breathing and mimic an asthma attack. Most affected people will display symptoms of the common cold but some will develop more severe symptoms requiring medical attention.

There are no vaccines for preventing EV-D68 infections, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people take the following steps to protect themselves:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as toys and doorknobs

Jacobson says Children’s Mercy first noticed a spike in EV-D68 cases in mid-August. The hospital sent some samples to the CDC, which confirmed them.
“So I think we were probably the first to report and the first to really work closely with them in confirming,” Jacobson says. “And then as our Dr. Mary Anne Jackson and several of our other doctors who are very influential around the region started reaching out to other peers in neighboring states, we started learning that they were seeing the same type of thing that we were seeing.”

The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago also reported a cluster of cases. The CDC confirmed 11 of those cases.

Jacobson says of the 500 suspected cases of EV-D68 at Children’s Mercy Hospital, about 60 were serious enough to warrant treatment in intensive care.

The CDC reported on Monday that it confirmed 19 patients from Kansas City with EV-D68. Ten were male, and ages ranged from 6 weeks to 16 years. The CDC said that 13 had a previous history of asthma or wheezing and six had no underlying respiratory illness.

EV-D68 was first identified in California in 1962, according to the CDC. While enteroviruses are quite common — there are more than 100 types — this particular type has rarely been reported in the United States.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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