If your child has been coughing or wheezing recently, it may have nothing to do with allergies or asthma.
In the past few weeks, Kansas City hospitals have seen an influx of children suffering from the symptoms of a rare respiratory virus during what is usually the low season for respiratory issues.
“Across the region, emergency rooms have been full, pediatric units have been near capacity across town,” says Dr. Mike Lewis, a University of Kansas Medical Center pediatrician.
Hospitals first saw unseasonal breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing and fever in children in early to-mid August. They have since linked the symptoms to the enterovirus 68.
The number of children affected is comparable to the numbers seen during the height of flu season, according to Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, division director for infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“This is like Christmas in August, except not in a good way,” she says.
There is no drug to treat enterovirus 68. But Lewis says symptoms can be treated by taking acetaminophen and ibuprofen. He advises patients to drink plenty of fluids.
For more severe cases, patients at KU Hospital are receiving albuterol or oral steroids and, in some cases, getting supplemental oxygen. The virus has also required asthma intervention — even among asthmatic children who have not wheezed in years.
Lewis says the virus generally comes on quickly but also ends fairly quickly. Hospitalizations have generally lasted one to four days.
Both KU Hospital and Children’s Mercy say the number of children arriving in their emergency rooms with the virus and being admitted to the hospital have prompted them to increase staffing.
As many as five or six kinds of viruses may be circulating in the area now, and Jackson says it’s unclear how many children have been affected by entrovirus 68.
Children’s Mercy has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test patients.
“If all of our patients turn out to have EV68, or even 90 percent of them, then this is quite a large outbreak and maybe one of the largest reported.” Jackson says.
The number of children going to the emergency room seems to be down from a week ago, according to Jackson, but it could take weeks or months for the entrovirus 68 to run its course.
In the meantime, doctors advise thorough hand washing and observing cough etiquette.
Asthma patients are advised to follow their asthma action plan.