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Enterovirus D68 cases have plateaued, but some mysteries remain

Ellen Abbott
Dr. Jana Shaw says the virus could be more widespread than first thought because it has similar symptoms to the common cold. (file photo)

There are still children being treated at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse for symptoms of a respiratory virus that’s hospitalized hundreds of children across the country. But the numbers of suspected cases of Enterovirus D-68 has leveled off.

It was just a few weeks ago that the pediatric emergency room at Upstate was jammed with families worried that their children had come down with the enterovirus that’s swept across the country. Pediatrician Jana Shaw says things are considerably calmer now.

"We see less children who are sort of worried, well, children who will come in just to be checked and make sure they are okay," Shaw said. "But we also know there are fewer children coming with illnesses, because we are admitting fewer children with respiratory illness.”

She says it’s hard to say just how many children caught the bug that has hospitalized hundreds of kids across the country.

“It’s clear we had the virus in the community, it’s probably still here," Shaw explained. "We don’t have accurate estimates. Also, we only tested hospitalized children, and probably most of the children who had this virus very likely had asymptomatic disease, or they just had a simple cold. Those children would not have come to us and would not be tested.”

About three dozen cases have been confirmed at Golisano. Shaw says the true number of cases is probably much higher, but many children who get the virus experience mild symptoms.

Shaw also says it’s proving very difficult to connect this particular enterovirus with cases of weakness in limbs that showed up in children who were being treated for respiratory symptoms.

She says there have been reported instances of this in Syracuse, along with a half-dozen other states this year, and at this point it’s tough to make a definitive connection.

“We have seen an increased number of children presenting with EV-D68 respiratory illness, and subsequently we have seen an increased number of children with a mysterious, unknown, neurological condition," Shaw said. "So one would think that those two are related, but they may not be related. There are many other enteroviruses that are in the same family as EV-D68 that can cause neurological disease, and those need to be ruled out first.”