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Uncommon respiratory illness may be in Utah

(KSL TV, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A virus that has likely sickened hundreds of children in dozens of states may now be in Utah.

"In the past two weeks, Primary Children’s has seen increased numbers of children admitted to the hospital with serious respiratory disease symptoms, including pneumonia and asthma," Bonnie Midget, spokeswoman for Primary Children's Hospital, said Monday.

"Many are testing positive for the family of viruses that includes EV-D68, but we do not have a test that identifies the specific strain. We are waiting on confirmation from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), but we suspect EV-D68 may be here in Utah."

Results could take up to a week to come back.

The enterovirus 68 is an uncommon strain of a very common family of viruses that typically hit from summertime through autumn.

Nearly 500 children were treated in one hospital in Kansas City, Missouri; some required intensive care.

Many are testing positive for the family of viruses that includes EV-D68, but we do not have a test that identifies the specific strain. We are waiting on confirmation from the CDC, but we suspect EV-D68 may be here in Utah.

–Bonnie Midget, Primary Children's Hospital

In the Denver area, more than 900 children were treated for severe respiratory illnesses at Children's Hospital Colorado and its urgent care locations, and 86 were hospitalized in recent weeks. Spokeswoman Melissa Vizcarra said Monday that the CDC had confirmed the virus in 19 of 25 samples from her hospital.

Cases have also been confirmed in Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention representative said the agency is testing to see whether the virus caused respiratory illnesses in children in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma and in Utah. As more results come in, the number of states impacted by this virus may change.

Doctors do not see this strain often; the last outbreak hit in the 1960s. It's particularly dangerous to children suffering from asthma.

“It's a respiratory illness, and respiratory illnesses are unpredictable,” said Rebecca Ward with the Utah Department of Health. “It's not surprising it's close by. It could very well and very easily be here in Utah.”

The virus sickens children as small as infants all the way up to teenagers. So far, no deaths have been reported in the outbreak.

The virus can cause mild, cold-like symptoms including runny noses, coughing and wheezing. The clusters popping up around the country is something the Utah Department of Health calls unusual.

Mark Pallansch, director of the viral diseases division at the CDC, said this summer's cases are unusually severe and include serious breathing problems.

The CDC reached out to state health departments nationwide Monday in a teleconference.

"We're at a stage where it's difficult to say just how big this is, how long it will go on for and how widespread it will be,” Dr. Anne Schuchat with the CDC said.

Although there are many reported EV68 cases, Utah Department of Health officials say confirming them is difficult. They are trying to get the word out that the illness could already be here and parents might not even know it.

“We want to make physicians aware all over the state of Utah to be looking for these particular signs and symptoms,” Ward said, “so if it warrants testing it can be sent to our state lab.”

Although usually a child can recover with little intervention, there are instances of long-term effects. "It could cause things like meningitis or encephalitis, which is swelling of the brain or spinal cord, so it can be very severe,” Ward said.

Schuchat said there are other viruses also making kids sick.

“Most of the runny noses out there are not going to be turning into this,” she said. “If it looks like your child is having difficulty breathing, you absolutely want to seek medical help.”

There's currently no vaccine for enterovirus 68.

“People can help protect themselves and their children,” says Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Primary Children’s Hospital epidemiologist. “Wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with people who are sick, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and stay home if you are ill.”

Contributing: Associated Press

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