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Health Team

NC: No cases of respiratory illness, hospitals ready

Posted September 8, 2014 1:48 p.m. EDT
Updated September 9, 2014 11:28 a.m. EDT

— Hundreds of children in about a dozen states have been sickened by a severe respiratory illness that public health officials suspect may be caused by an uncommon virus similar to the germ that causes the common cold.

Nearly 500 children have been treated at one hospital alone — Children's Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri — and some required intensive care, according to authorities.

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

The virus can cause mild coldlike symptoms but this summer's cases are unusually severe, said Mark Pallansch, director of the viral diseases division at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It's not highly unusual but we're trying to understand what happened this year in terms of these noticeable and much larger clusters of severe respiratory disease," Pallansch said Monday.

Although no cases of enterovirus 68 have been reported in North Carolina, Dr. Zack Moore of the state Division of Public Health said emergency rooms and primary care physicians have seen the expected surge of seasonal respiratory problems common when the school year starts.

Local hospitals are aware of the outbreak elsewhere and are ready to treat patients if Enterovirus turns up, said Dr. Mike Steiner of NC Children's Hospital.

"We have started preparing for the possibility of having an enteroviral outbreak here that causes symptoms similar to what hospitals in the Midwest are seeing," Steiner said.

Moore said earlier reports that North Carolina was among those states that have reached out to the CDC are incorrect, and that the state would seek support if and when Enterovirus 68 tests come back positive.

"We haven't had any interaction with the CDC or any requests for assistance from the CDC so we're not sure where that information came from, and our contacts at the CDC are not sure where that information came from," Moore said.

The virus typically causes illness lasting about a week and most children recover with no lasting problems.

Children with asthma and other health problems are especially at risk, but reported cases include children without asthma who have developed asthmalike breathing problems, Pallansch said. He said no deaths have been reported in the outbreak.

Dr. Mask recommends

Dr. Allen Mask said preventing the spread of Enterovirus 68 is the same as for any other infectious disease.

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Stay out of crowds, and home from work or school, if you feel ill, and see a doctor.