Enterovirus D68 is hospitalizing children around the Midwest due to its severe asthma attack-like symptoms. Today, it is confirmed that the virus has reached Minnesota.
According to a statement from the Minnesota Department of Health, its laboratory has confirmed one case of Enterovirus 68 (EV-D68). Labs at the University of Minnesota have also confirmed EV D68 in 11 samples from the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.
For more detail about the findings, Health Talk spoke with Mark Schleiss, M.D., director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology and a pediatric infectious disease physician and researcher in the University of Minnesota Department of Pediatrics.
Health Talk: How is EV-D68 diagnosed?
Mark Schleiss, M.D.: There isn’t a validated test for this virus. EV-D68 can’t be for as you would for strep throat, using a throat swab and culture. In our cases, my colleague, Shane McAllister M.D., Ph.D., used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) followed by direct sequencing of the viral RNA, and this was able to confirm unequivocally that these individuals were infected with EV-D68.
HT: How long does the genetic sequencing of EV-D68 take?
Schleiss: This process takes a few days. Still, while a lot of thought goes into sequencing, however, we aren’t starting from ground zero with this specific Enterovirus. Physicians and scientists have seen this strain before. My lab was able to use previous information from the GenBank sequencing database which helped us design the correct primers.
HT: What questions are raised now that you have confirmed this virus in Minnesota?
Schleiss: One research question that has been sparked is if this virus has changed. The most recent strain on the database for which there is partial sequence information was from 2012. We want to know, is this sequence changing? Our hypothesis is that yes, it is changing, that is why we are seeing more severe infections that those in 2012, 2007 and 2004.
HT: Has this confirmation inspired researchers to develop a quick test?Schleiss: Medical research companies may choose to develop a quick test, but a quick test might not be necessary. This could be a virus epidemic that runs its course and won’t cause problems again in the future. The implications are not known yet. However, we do know that this virus cannot be treated with antiviral medications. It is important to recognize the symptoms of this virus, and seek medical attention when necessary.
HT: What are the symptoms and how do we treat those?
Schleiss: This virus can cause a respiratory infection. Symptoms include wheezing, fever, shortness of breath and a bad cough. It is compared to a severe asthma attack, but seen in children without asthma. Some hospitalized children need extra oxygen and bronchodilator medicine. If you have a child that is having trouble breathing, no matter the ailment, it is necessary to seek medical attention.
HT: What else do parents need to know regarding this virus?
Schleiss: Our labs here at CIDMTR, in collaboration with Dr. McAllister and professor Patricia Ferreiri M.D., specifically have found this strain in 11 patients. This means the scope could be much larger. It is important that parents and children take the following precautions to prevent the spread of this virus:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Disinfect surfaces
- Cover your cough
- Keep your child home from school if they are ill
- Minimize hand to mouth contact