Wednesday, October 1, 2014

EV-68 lurks in Northeast, even as news of Ebola takes hold

While the recent spread of Ebola to the United States has captured the attention of the media, another potentially harmful viral disease lurks in the shadows: enterovirus 68 (EV-D68). While not a new pathogen, the enterovirus has enjoyed a resurgence among school-age students in recent months due to a lack of testing and accurate diagnosis.

First identified in 1962, EV-D68 can cause a range of symptoms, from none at all to subtle flu-like symptoms, to debilitating respiratory illness. In some recent cases, EV-D68 symptoms have verged on polio-like symptoms, including lower body and full-body paralysis. The degree of severity of symptoms experienced seems to depend on the demographic population in question. Experts estimate that the majority of the population has, in fact, been exposed to the enterovirus, but that no symptoms are exhibited in healthy adults.

In contrast, EV-D68 is disproportionately debilitating in very young children, as well as the very week. While several hundred people (472), mostly youth, have been exposed to the disease, less then a hundred of those patients have been diagnosed with severe symptoms (such as paralysis), and just a single death was recorded over the weekend. The death was of a 10-year-old girl in New Hampshire.

In other avatars of EV-D68, victims experience a severe respiratory illness that necessitates being placed on a respirator for life support. Doctors have been able to conclusively diagnose EV-D68 by identifying EV-D68 in spinal fluid.

While still a nascent epidemic, EV-D68 shows signs of a ferocious resurgence; indeed, it has already killed more people than Ebola in the United States (though admittedly, this doesn't mean much). It is extremely contagious and likely airborne, and experts suggest frequent handwashing, and avoiding close bodily contact with affected individuals.

--Shubha Raghvendra



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