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Understanding Enterovirus

Updated on October 4, 2014

What is Enterovirus?

Enterovirus is a virus that often originates in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract following an infection. Although it can affect any age group, the young tend to be the most commonly impacted. In 2014, it appears that children under the age of five with allergies and asthma were at the greatest risk for the Enterovirus D68 strain. Interestingly enough, there are more than 70 different strains of enterovirus however, only 70 percent of these infections are caused by 10 types. The virus is seasonal, occurring mainly during the summer and fall months.

As of September 29, 2014, forty states and the District of Columbia now have a total of 277 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68, the severe respiratory illness that typically targets children, U.S. health officials are reporting.

Officials said the 40 states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming (nih.gov).

How Can You Catch Enterovirus?

Poor hygiene and contaminated hands or materials seem to be the greatest culprit of spreading enterovirus. It is noted to be most frequently passed through contaminated food or water. It is a fecal-oral route of transmission/contaminated fingers or objects contaminated by human waste. Another method in which the virus is spread is via air droplets which can cause respiratory illnesses.

What does this mean? It is often transmitted after touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes on our own bodies.

The incubation period for most enteroviruses ranges from two to 14 days.

What are the Symptoms of Enterovirus

Although the virus originates in the GI tract, it is not there where the symptoms generally result but instead, the virus spreads to other parts of the body like the nervous system, heart, skin and respiratory system.

Despite the fact that anywhere between five to ten million people experience enterovirus each year, many do not experience any symptoms.

However, those who acquire the illness during summer months have exhibited the following the symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Weakness

  • Upper Respiratory symptoms (i.e. shortness of breath)

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

You have probably noted that many of the identified symptoms mimic the flu which makes it difficult initially to differentiate between the two illnesses, however experts say that when the illness occurs during the summer months, they tend to align more with the enterovirus diagnosis.

What is the Treatment for Enterovirus?

There is not a specific treatment for enterovirus. Most episodes of enterovirus resolve themselves but as seen in the 2014 Summer-Fall season, some do not so readily resolve themselves and require a more intense treatment. Those children who have pre-existing conditions like allergies or asthma may require treatment that includes use of oxygen or inhaler therapy. Antibiotics are not effective against this virus and unfortunately, there is not any kind of antiviral treatment for the Enterovirus D68 strain.

How might we prevent the spread of enterovirus? Hand-washing, use of sanitizer and coughing in the crook of your elbow as opposed to your hand seem to be just a few of the highlighted things that can be done to prevent the spread.

Video: Officials Urge Caution as Enterovirus Spikes

© 2014 Mahogany Speaks

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