Health officials: Take sickness seriously

  • By Melissa Griffiths
  • Tuesday, October 7, 2014 10:27pm
  • News

An enterovirus outbreak and the impending influenza season mean taking precautions to avoid the spread of sickness is important, especially in the most vulnerable populations.

“This is the time of year when cold virus activity starts picking up again,” said Dr. Michael Cooper, infectious disease program manager for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. “And influenza season is just around the corner.”

State health officials are urging Alaskans to be proactive in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses.

Though there have been no confirmed or suspected cases of Enterovirus D68 in Alaska, Cooper said “it would not be surprising if the virus is detected in Alaska soon.”

While a mix of enteroviruses circulates every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EV-D68 has been reported in numbers much greater than in other years, and some of the reported cases have been severe.

Mild symptoms may include fever, runny nose, sneezing, coughing and aches. More severe symptoms may include wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Infants and children through teenagers are most at risk for EV-D68, “because they do not yet have immunity from previous exposures to these viruses,” the CDC reports. “We believe this is also true for EV-D68. Adults can get infected with enteroviruses, but they are more likely to have no symptoms or mild symptoms.”

A New Jersey boy, 4-year-old Eli Waller, was determined to have died of EV-68 by a medical examiner, according to the Associated Press.

Two children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are being treated for muscle weakness or possible paralysis which may be linked to EV-D68, the AP also reported. More than 500 people across the country, mostly children, have fallen ill due to the virus.

There is no specific treatment for people with respiratory illness caused by EV-D68, a CDC publication reads. Mild symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter cold medicines, but those experiencing severe symptoms may need to be hospitalized. There are no antiviral medications currently available for people who become infected with EV-D68.

While it is a small population who have reported severe symptoms, the best course of action if symptoms surface is to stay home to keep from spreading illness and to seek a doctor if symptoms become severe.

The recommended precautions are to get a flu shot early; wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (a more effective method than gel-based hand sanitizers); avoid touching your 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, including toys and doorknobs; cover coughs and sneezes; and stay home from daycare, school or work if exhibiting symptoms.

Children and adults with asthma should be extra-cautious, assuring their asthma is under control and seeing a doctor if they develop a respiratory infection and asthma worsens.

For more information about EV-D68, visit http://www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/outbreaks/EV-D68-outbreaks.html.

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