Flu-like EV-D68 virus not (yet) in Richmond County

By Kevin Spradlin

Reading the blogosphere, it seems only a matter of time before Enterovirus D68 appears in Richmond County children, but local health officials said it’s not here — not yet, at least.

According to a CNN report Tuesday, a dozen states have sought help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus has been found in North Carolina this month but so far only in tiny pockets.

Enteroviruses, which bring on symptoms like a very intense cold, aren’t unusual.

“It’s important to remember that these infections are very common,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat. Schuchat is the assistant surgeon general for the U.S. Public Health Service and the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

When you have a bad summer cold, often what you have is an enterovirus. The CDC estimates there are 10 to 15 million viral infections each year in the United States. The season often hits its peak in September.

Tammy Brigman, clinical director of the emergency department FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital, said that “we have not seen an increase with pediatric patients with the reported symptoms at this time.”

Likewise, Tommy Jarrell, health director with the Richmond County  Health Department, said that “I don’t think anyone is aware of a specific (local) case at this point.”

Jarrell said the subject came up as a sidebar during a meeting of health officials earlier this week. In side conversations, at least two physicians also said their offices hadn’t seen EV-D68.

As school resumed for children across the country in late August, Jarrell said it’s common for this time of year to be a time when people attract viruses.

“There are a lot of stomach viruses going on now,” he said. “We’re at the time of the year … people have different allergies, asthma … (and) anytime school starts up from the summer months … just opens up exposure to any kind of virus or illness spreading from one person to another.”

This particular type of enterovirus — EV-D68 — is uncommon but not new. It was identified in the 1960s, and there have been fewer than 100 reported cases since that time. But it’s possible that the relatively low number of reports might be because EV-D68 is hard to identify.

“It’s one that we don’t know as much about as we would like,” Schuchat told CNN.

Jarrell said some of the county’s most vulnerable population, children ages 4 to 11, are most at risk.

“We’re certainly keeping our eyes on it,” Jarrell said. “I didn’t realize how many had been to this hospital in Denver.”

Jarrell was referring to a news report of more than 900 children have gone to Children’s Hospital Colorado emergency and urgent care locations since Aug. 18 for treatment of severe respiratory illnesses, including enterovirus and viral infections, hospital spokeswoman Melissa Vizcarra told CNN. Of those, 86 have been sick enough to be admitted to the Aurora facility.

Jarrell said common hand washing procedures can go along way to stymie a virus’ efforts to spread.

Use common sense, Jarrell said: cover your mouth when coughing and wash your hands frequently “just to try to stop the spread of germs.”

The Health Department does have a stockpile of flu vaccine on hand but Jarrell said he believes it’s too early to receive it. While officials would accommodate those who request it, he said late September and into October are better times to receive the vaccine.

Jarrell cautioned parents to keep a watchful eye to distinguish between a normal summertime cold and something else.

“From everything you’re reading, a lot of people have these summer cold symptoms,” he said. It’s not customary every time you get a cold to necessarily run to the doctor.

However, that changes “if they start the wheezing. Then maybe it is a good time to contact their physician … to see if there might be something more than a cold going on.”

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