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The Uncommon Cold

Back to school season normally brings with it a slew of sniffles and sneezes. This year, though, doctors aren’t just seeing the typical symptoms treated with Tylenol and a good night’s rest, but rather illnesses requiring hospitalizations and some stays in the ICU.

The Centers for Disease Control is blaming Enterovirus D68. "Enteroviruses are very common in summer and fall and cause cold like symptoms, conjunctivitis, rashes, or hand foot and mouth disease” says Andrew T. Pavia, MD, chief of University of Utah’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “This particular strain is unusual because it causes much more severe symptoms in some patients, especially children.” According to the CDC, the average age of the nearly one thousand people hospitalized because of EV-D68 is four years old.

Respiratory problems are the key symptom with EV-D68. Patients start out with typical cold symptoms, but some begin experiencing asthmatic symptoms like wheezing or difficulty breathing. Some patients go on to develop severe symptoms and may need to be hospitalized or even need ICU care. It appears that people with asthma are at higher risk but some patients who have never had asthma have developed severe symptoms.

Ten states have reported cases of EV-D68 – and Utah is not officially one of them yet. However, we are seeing an increase in children whose symptoms suggest that EV-D68 has arrived. Doctors like Pavia are ready. “We have been on alert for a couple weeks now,” he says. “This week we are seeing an increase in admissions of children with severe asthma and in pediatric intensive care admissions. However we cannot be sure if the cause is EV-D68 because only specialized tests can detect that strain. A lot of these kids have tested positive for the family of viruses that includes EV-D68 using molecular tests, but we are sending specimens to CDC to see if it is in fact the specific strain.”

The good news is that there have been no fatalities from EV-D68 despite what are likely thousands of cases around the country. “This does not appear to be deadly based on what we know so far,” Pavia says. “Almost all patients will recover. Some may take longer than others, and some may need more intensive medical intervention, but they should all get better.”

“We all should step up our cold and flu prevention protocols,” says Pavia. “We all know that washing hands, and disinfecting surfaces touched by lots of people – like doorknobs – can help us keep from getting sick.” Other ways to stop the spread of colds is to avoid close contact with those who are sick and staying home when you don’t feel well. 


Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.