State News

NC officials report three more cases of enterovirus

Posted October 7, 2014 3:31 p.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2014 11:22 p.m. EDT

— State health officials report three more cases of an unusual respiratory virus that has been affecting children across the U.S., raising the total number of cases in North Carolina to nine since late September.

The virus, called enterovirus D68, has sickened more than 500 people in 43 states and Washington, D.C. – almost all of them children.

Enteroviruses are transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the three new cases on Tuesday. An agency statement said the three specimens that tested positive were obtained from children ages 10 and under with respiratory illnesses.

One additional case that meets the criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was detected in the eastern part of the state. The patient tested positive but additional testing is being done.

"The confirmed cases were located in different parts of the state, so it is important for everyone, including parents and schools, to take necessary actions to prevent the spread of EV-D68 and other respiratory viruses," said Dr. Zack Moore, a pediatrician and epidemiologist with the Division of Public Health. "There are no vaccines and no specific treatments for EV-D68, so prevention is the best option."

WakeMed has 19 patients who have tested positive for an enterovirus – there are numerous strains – but spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said hospital officials are waiting on more tests to determine if the virus is EV-D68.

Lisa Esquivel-Clark said she was stunned to learn her daughter, Melina, tested positive for an enterovirus. She said Melina has suffered with severe asthma since she was 2, so she figured the girl's recent wheezing and gasping for air was related to that.

"We didn't think it was anything different than what she has encountered," Esquivel-Clark said, adding that the enterovirus test came after Melina spent two days at WakeMed.

Melina's tests have been sent to the CDC to determine if she has EC-D68.

Doctors say children with asthma or other respiratory problems are more susceptible to the virus. Kelly said WakeMed has seen a dramatic increase in the number of children with respiratory illnesses as compared with years past.

Dr. David Weber, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at UNC Hospitals, said EV-D68 has been around for years, but he said it's unusual to see this many cases early in the season.

"Viruses change. They mutate and adapt over time," Weber said. "This virus has become somewhat more adapted, so we are seeing a bit of an outbreak that we haven't really seen in the past."

Thirteen children have tested positive for enterovirus at UNC Hospitals, including two with EV-D68.

Since people with asthma have a higher risk of respiratory illnesses, health officials are reminding everyone with the condition to take their medications as prescribed and make sure it is under good control. Health officials are also recommending getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible to help prevent another important cause of respiratory illness that could be going around at the same time.

Weber said parents should be on the lookout for upper-respiratory problems, but he said the enterovirus doesn't appear to be an epidemic similar to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.