The CDC recently released a alert to healthcare providers about enterovirus D68, which has emerged in children hospitalized with severe respiratory illnesses. This virus can also cause a form of paralysis known as acute flaccid myelitis. Most illnesses caused by this virus do not cause paralysis, but it is good that providers have this on their radar. So what does this mean for you as a parent?
What is enterovirus D68?
This virus is an enterovirus, from the same family as poliomyelitis. (In fact, there is a whole group of these “non-polio enteroviruses”.) Enteroviruses spend part of their time in the gut, hence their name, but they can also cause respiratory symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and coughing. Some of the recent cases of EV-D68 have involved severe respiratory symptoms, particularly in children with a history of asthma or wheezing.
EV-D68 is one of the viruses that has been linked to acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), which was described as a polio-like paralysis during its first major surge in 2014. There have since been surges in late summer and early fall 2016, 2018 and 2020 , and it looks like the pattern will continue this year.
What is acute flaccid myelitis?
Myelitis is an inflammation of the spinal cord that can lead to weakness and paralysis. “Acute” means it comes on suddenly and “flabby” means the affected body part may feel limp. (This is to distinguish it from other forms of paralysis in which the muscle may cramp or twitch.)
Symptoms of AFM may include weakness in one arm or leg, but other parts of the body may be affected, including droopy eyelids, slurred speech, or difficulty swallowing. The CDC calls AFM “rare but serious.” If your child has any of these symptoms, be sure to see a doctor.
What should parents know?
It is important to remember that this virus is not very common and AFM is even rarer. In short: don’t panic.
Fortunately, the ways to protect yourself and your child from this virus are the same things you should already be doing to reduce your risk of colds, flu, COVID, stomach bugs, and other common illnesses. The CDC has a information poster for parentswho advises the following:
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Cover your cough and sneeze
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Clean and disinfect surfaces
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
- Stay home when you are sick
There is no vaccine for EV-D68, but the CDC always advises staying up to date on vaccines to protect against other illnesses that can cause similar symptoms, including polio and influenza.
If your child has asthma, the CDC recommends making sure they have a asthma action plan which specifies the medications and precautions to be taken according to the intensity of their asthma. And, as always, seek immediate medical attention if they are having trouble breathing.