Several hundred US kids are being treated for Enterovirus 68 a respiratory illness that can cause children to become paralyzed. Outbreaks of the virus have been detected in most of the fifty states.
So far, the virus has infected 443 children in 40 states, and the District of Columbia, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Abbreviated as EV-D68, the virus was first identified 50 years ago. However, it has rarely been tested for until cases started appearing in the US Midwest and Southwest this year.
EV-D68 causes symptoms similar to the common cold but progresses into wheezing, breathing problems and paralysis.
There is no drug yet for the current strain of the virus, so treatment is focused on helping patients to breathe.
CDC, state health officials and doctors announced last week they were investigating nine cases of children with muscles weakness or paralysis linked to the virus at the Childrens Hospital Colorado. Most had the respiratory illness but then came down with an unspecified acute neurological illness. Four of the eight tested positive for the enterovirus, while eight of the nine had up-to-date polio vaccinations.
The severity is what triggered our concern, said Mark Pallansch, director of the CDCs Division of Viral Diseases.
The number of ill children might increase once the backlog of specimens has been tested, CDC said.
EV-D68 is one of some 100 different non-polio enteroviruses attacking about 10-15 million infants and children a year. Young people are most at risk of getting sick as their immune systems have not fully developed. Especially vulnerable are the children suffering from asthma.
The polio-like paralysis cases are not as frequent, but a California research team reported limb paralysis cases in five children as early as February. They did not regain the use of their limbs. Two of them were confirmed with EV-68 and respiratory illness before the symptoms began, and all of the children had been previously vaccinated against poliovirus.
Newly identified strains of the enterovirus have also been reported among children in Asia and Australia, causing polio-like symptoms.