A rare respiratory illness has been all over the news recently, especially with the addition of two new states – Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. These states have recently been added to the growing group with confirmed cases of enterovirus 68. The other states include New York, Alabama, Indiana, Louisiana, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Missouri. Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, and Utah suspect that they have cases, but it has not been confirmed yet.
Enteroviruses are incredibly common, however enterovirus 68 is a rarer strain that can cause breathing problems in children. It was first isolated in California in 1962 and has generally turned up in sporadic, isolated instances. It usually surfaces later in the enterovirus season, which is equivalent to August-September in the Northern hemisphere. Outbreaks have become more common in the 21st century and have included countries like the Philippines, Japan, the Netherlands, and in multiple US states.
In general, children under 5 years of age are the most at risk, but the disease has been found in older children and adults with asthma as well as immunosuppressed adults. The disease causes typical respiratory illness symptoms.
There is no vaccine or treatment beyond supportive care, so it is recommended to use common sense and good hygiene for protection. Since the virus is spread through saliva, phlegm, and stool you should wash your hands regularly, cough or sneeze into your arm (not your hands) and avoid prolonged exposure with sick people. If you are ill try to avoid prolonged contact with immunocompromised individuals, very young children, and infants. The disease generally runs it course without any complications and very few people need to be hospitalized.
While enterovirus 68 has been a hot topic recently, it appears that the number of children with the illness has peaked toward the end of August. More states may be added to the list, but it should not be taken as a sign that the disease is suddenly spreading to new locations. Since only the CDC and a handful of other laboratories are able to test for this particular strain there is a backlog of samples.