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Is EV-71 The Virus To Cause The Next Global Pandemic?

Updated on June 19, 2013

“Public health experts predict that the number of EV-71 cases will continue to increase.” - World Health Organization, May 1, 2008

At the time of writing, EV-71 has infected more than twenty five thousand people and killed 43 in half a dozen provinces in China as well as the capital city of Beijing. Patients have recently succumbed in Taiwan, as well as Malaysia and other Asian nations.

EV-71 can manifest itself in a fairly mild state, causing flu-like symptoms, diarrhoea, and sores on the hands, feet and mouth. However, the virus can also present far more severe complications causing fluid to accumulate on the brain, resulting in a polio-like paralysis and then death: A fate that dozens of children have recently succumbed to, and more are dying every day.

There is no antiviral treatment known for severe EV-71 infections and it is likely that no effective vaccine will be available for years. A global epidemic could start in a matter of days and cost the lives of millions of children, as the young are the most susceptible to this virus.

EV-71 is an extremely contagious virus that is manifesting itself in new and lethal ways. The severe cases which are currently causing the deaths of so many children are attacking their victims in modes doctors have never seen before. Communicable by a touch, a kiss, or even a glass, fork, tap or towel, the virus has the potential to spread around the world. There is no cure, no effective drug, and no vaccine to stem its spread.

EV-71 is an enterovirus: the most common cause of aseptic meningitis around the world and one that can cause lethal disease especially in infants and the immuno-compromised. The ways the virus manifests itself include rashes, vesicular eruptions, acute respiratory disease, conjunctivitis, aseptic meningitis, and inflammation of the brain and heart tissue. The virus is known to cause severe neurological disease and paralysis leading to death.

EV-71 was first identified from cases of neurological disease in California in 1969. EV-71 has a rare capacity to mutate extremely quickly, increasing its infectivity and stifling attempts to develop effective therapies. A series of major and minor EV-71 epidemics have struck since the 1980s, primarily in Asian countries with a significant proportion of travelers to China. One of the greatest EV-71 infections to date occurred in Taiwan in 1998, infecting over 125,000 and causing more than 80 deaths.

No country is expecting to be able to provide antiviral drugs or vaccines for its population before 2011 at the earliest. This will create a window of several years where there will be no effective protection for a disease which may kill millions of children.

A vaccine will likely be too late. The time it takes to produce, license and distribute a new vaccine is a minimum of nine months, even once it is tested and found to be effective. Given that EV-71 is likely to mutate to a pandemic form and spread worldwide in just weeks, many millions may die before any vaccine will be widely available. EV-71 has shown remarkable mutation abilities thus will probably be immune to the vaccine when and if it arrives. Furthermore, most filtration masks, antibacterial soaps and alternative medicines are futile against EV-71.

Many people are looking at this potential EV-71 pandemic in the same way that they look at Avian Influenza: More Chicken Little Bird Flu. There has been endless hype about this or that virus causing a worldwide pandemic, and none has surfaced to date, therefore it is difficult to blame the man on the street for being apathetic about yet another media firestorm over a global killer that never arrives. However, many epidemiologists agree that we are well overdue for a huge global pandemic which will be aided and abetted by the modern ease of international transportation. Whether EV-71 will be the pathogen that will trigger the pandemic is unknown, but any reader of this Hub would be well advised to take as many health, hygiene, and medical precautions as possible to avoid infection of yourself and your loved ones.


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    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 9 years ago

      Looking forward to those tips. Thanks.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto

      Kika Rose: There's nothing like a little visual to grab people's attention when it comes to important issues, and this one definitely qualifies. Sorry about your dinner! :)

      quicksand: I'll be writing a Hub soon on general prevention techniques for any communicable viral infection. These are tips that really work!

      Richard Hester: Thanks! I really appreciate you stating that! :)

    • profile image

      Richard Hester 9 years ago

      Great information Hal. This is a perfect hub.

    • quicksand profile image

      quicksand 9 years ago

      Hal, this is the first time I am hearing of this. You said it affects only children, however, the only precaution we adults are capable of taking is, paying extra attention to hygene, avoiding crowds, strengthening our immune systems ... that's about the only thing I know in terms of precautions. Any suggestions?

    • Kika Rose profile image

      Kika Rose 9 years ago from Minnesota

      That is soooooo nasty... Ugh. Why did that pic of the kid's tongue and fingers have to be the first thing I saw, Hal? Come on. I haven't eaten yet today. I don't feel like losing dinner from last night, as wonderful as it was the first time around.

      I haven't heard of EV-71 before, which tells me it hasn't been very well introduced to the mainstream media. And if it has, I might just be missing it. Now you've got me all worried! :(