Enterovirus enters central New York

(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)
(Lily Choi | The Oswegonian)

Cases of the enterovirus (EV-D68), the respiratory illnesses caused by an uncommon virus that has infected people in 13 different states, have been confirmed in Central New York, according to the New York State Department of Health.

The virus, which is severely infecting infant and young children, was reported in Onondaga County on Sept. 12, in neighboring Madison County on Sept. 15 and the West Genesee School District in Camillus in Onondaga County last Thursday.

In addition, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse is restricting visitors under the age of 16 from visiting patients in the children’s hospital, as there has been a 30 percent increase in children brought in with respiratory illness.

“While most of these symptoms are indicative of the common cold, please be aware of the symptoms and contact your physician if you have questions or concerns about your own child,” the West Genesee School District said in a letter sent home to students’ parents.   Your doctor can make a diagnosis using a lab test, can recommend the best treatment, and can determine when your child may return to school.”

As many as a dozen children have been confirmed having EV-D68 in Central New York and the Capital District. Cases in New York City and New Jersey have also been reported, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children with symptoms of the virus have also been reported from other regions across the state, though it can take up to a week to fully test a subject to confirm the illness. Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany is the only laboratory in the state that can confirm EV-D68.

“It is important that we follow common sense rules to prevent the spread of this virus, as we do for flu and other contagious illnesses,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, acting state health commissioner. “Because there is

no specific treatment or vaccination against this virus, our best defense is to prevent it by practicing proper hygiene.”

Enteroviruses, first identified in California in 1962, are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. There is no specific treatment for EV-D68 infections other than management of symptoms, and no specific anti-viral medications are currently available for this purpose

The disease has been reported in Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Sept. 17, there are 130 lab-confirmed cases nationwide, all children. In New York state, the children are all between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old.

Enteroviruses are very common. There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses that commonly cause respiratory illness and they are very common, especially in the early fall. According to the CDC, an estimated 10 million to 15 million infections occur in the U.S. each year. These viruses usually present like the common cold; symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose and a cough. The EV-D68, however, is very uncommon.

While a good portion of Oswego State students have felt the symptoms of a common cold in the last week or so, it is not the EV-D68 they are infected with. According to the CDC, children are only infected.

“Most people infected with EV-D68 do not have symptoms or have mild respiratory symptoms,” said Cheryl Geiler, the Madison County Health Department’s director of community health, in a statement. “However, infants, children, and teenagers are most likely to become ill when infected with enteroviruses. That’s because they do not yet have immunity (protection) from previous exposures to these viruses.”

Usually the oldest a person to become infected with an enterovirus is 16 years. Mary Walker Health Center Director Elizabeth Burns said it is normal for college and high school students to spread a cold-like virus in mid-to-late September.

“It’s common for students to share a cold virus two to three weeks into the semester,” Burns said. “There are 100 different types of rhinoviruses that cause the common cold. Sharing living space, studying, socializing and attending classes together are factors in spreading the virus. Cold viruses are spread by coughing, sneezing and contact with the virus in the air, saliva and hands.”

In the case of the virus and general sickness, the state health department and Oswego State urges the important steps to protect oneself from respiratory infections, including washing hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, avoiding kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick and use the same precautions you would use to prevent the spread of influenza.

Meanwhile, the state health department said it will continue to work closely with the CDC, local health departments and health care providers to monitor the circulation of the virus in the state and across the U.S.