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Minnesota hospitals report rise in respiratory illnesses in children

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Doctors have told parents of a New Ulm 4-year-old that their daughter likely had Enterovirus D68, a rare type of the virus that has the nation's health officials on alert because it primarily affects children and has developed in troubling clusters nationwide, FOX 9 reports.

But as of yet, there have been no confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68 in the state. Minnesota Department of Health officials say they will notify the public when a case is confirmed in the state.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week said 12 states had sought the CDC's help in response to the outbreak, and the CDC is testing samples from those states. Minnesota has not been confirmed as being among them.

But that doesn't necessarily mean Enterovirus D68 hasn't surfaced in the state. At least a few Minnesota hospitals have seen a spike in the number of respiratory illnesses, including Mayo Clinic Children's Hospital in Rochester and the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, KARE 11 reports.

"A lot more kids are getting sick with the same symptoms all at the same time," Patsy Stinchfield, infectious disease director at Children's Hospitals and Clinics, told KARE 11. "We have increased our staffing. We have whole units that we've cleaned overnight and are preparing with more beds and more supplies."

She told the station 30 children at their Minneapolis and St. Paul hospitals have been treated in isolation.

Enterovirus D68 seems to surface almost exclusively in children. Symptoms are similar to that of a very bad cold, and can include wheezing or otherwise difficult breathing.

This year, there have been no confirmed cases of death resulting from Enterovirus D68, CDC officials have said.

But it can be scary for young patients and their parents.

"On Friday, she just had normal kind of cold symptoms," Melissa Wilson told FOX 9 about her daughter Addison, who doctors suspect had Enterovirus D68. "Saturday, it got a lot worse where her breathing was being affected. By Saturday night, she was coughing so hard she would be throwing up."

Since then, Wilson's daughter has mostly recovered, was discharged from the hospital and is being treated with antibiotics and steroids, FOX reported.

What are enteroviruses?

Generally speaking, enteroviruses – there are more than 100 different types of them – are quite common, and many people who get infected do not get sick. Those who do – infants, children and teens are most likely to feel ill – usually get symptoms similar to those of a very intense cold, which often simply runs its course.

Some people however, typically infants and people with weakened immune systems, are at risk of the virus worsening into heart or brain infections, and paralysis is possible, according to the CDC.

Enteroviruses tend to have a summer/fall season that often peaks in September, and can be easily spread when you have close contact with an infected person. You can also get infected by touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, the CDC says.

Enterovirus D68

Enteroviruses cause anywhere from 10 million to 15 million U.S. infections annually, health officials say, but the specific focus of concern in recent days – Enterovirus D68 – is rare. So far, about 12 states have contacted the CDC for help in confirming test samples as that of Enterovirus D68, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Monday.

CNN reported 10 of those states were: Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Schuchat said it was too early to say how far the virus might spread and how long the outbreak might last.

What has health officials worried is a recent spike in hospitalizations, specifically in the Kansas City and Chicago areas, which reported clusters of cases in August.

Schuchat said the CDC confirmed 19 of 22 samples sent to the CDC from Kansas City tested positive as Enterovirus D68, as did 11 of 14 samples from Chicago. All were found in children ranging in ages from 6 weeks to 16 years, she said.

All told, at one hospital in Kansas City, Children's Mercy, about 475 children have recently been treated, about 15 percent of whom were moved to intensive care, CNN reported.

"I've practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I've never seen anything quite like this," Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a director for infectious diseases at the hospital, told CNN.

Schuchat stressed none of the cases so far this year were fatal, nor did any result in paralysis, as far as the CDC knows. There are no current data about the number of Enterovirus D68-related deaths in the U.S. in previous years, the Missouri health department noted in an Aug. 29 health alert about the latest outbreak in Kansas City.

No specific treatment

Health officials say that there are no vaccines specifically formulated to prevent Enterovirus D68 or antiviral drugs to treat it. Nor is there a specific treatment regimen for Enterovirus D68. Patients at Children's Mercy Children’s were receiving asthma medications, oxygen and intravenous fluids as needed, the Kansas City Star reported.

Schuchat stressed that one warning sign parents should look for in their children is difficulty breathing, which should prompt parents to seek immediate medical attention.

“It seems to produce illness with a more severe component (such as) difficulty breathing,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University, told NBC News in a Monday report. “But the vast majority of these kids will get better.”

Enterovirus D68 was first isolated in California in 1962, and clusters have been reported on very rare occasions since that time – just 79 cases were reported from 2009–2013, the CDC says in a new report.

There's not a lot people can do to keep Enterovirus D68 at bay beyond commonsense measures, health officials say: wash hands often with soap and water; avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid contact with the sick; and stay home if you are feeling ill.

Read more about Enterovirus D68 from the CDC here. KARE 11 has a question-and-answer piece here with Dr. Bazak Sharon at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital.

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