Parents across the country are experiencing a new level of fear for the health of their children as Enterovirus D68, the so-called “Mystery Illness,” spreads causing paralysis and even death in kids.
The “Mystery Illness” has sent hundreds of children to hospitals from coast to coast, spreading to nearly every state and identified as the cause for at least four deaths. Some researchers are already calling this outbreak the Polio for our era.
The Centers for Disease Control have identified 594 cases in 43 states and the District of Columbia since August, but authorities say there are likely many more cases that have not been diagnosed. The virus is especially sneaky because it presents as a cold or the flu.
But the worst cases develop from a mere runny nose or aches and pains to serious headaches, neck pain, respiratory difficulties and then paralysis in some.
Most alarming to parents is the fact that doctors have no idea why Enterovirus 68 causes paralysis and have no idea how to stop it from doing so.
After reaching out to CNN’s audience via social media, the network’s digital correspondent found that parents across the country are very worried.
“I am way more interested and worried about enterovirus than Ebola,” said Cecily Kellogg of the blog Upperclasswoman.com.
But many doctors are quick to allay fears, saying that the regular, everyday flu is worse than Enterovirus.
“Flu kills several hundred children in an average year,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and epidemiologist for Primary Children’s Hospital. “This is dramatically more than the impact of EV-D68, but we are familiar with flu, while EV-D68 is something that seems new and noteworthy.”
Pavia went on to tell CNN that the best prevention is to make sure kids wash their hands “frequently and carefully” after eating, using the bathroom, and coming in contact with people who may be experiencing flu-like systems.
Dr. Pavia also warned that hand sanitizers may not be strong enough to kill the virus. “Doing something to wash your hands is better than doing nothing,” he said.
One issue about this virus, though, seems to be left out of the investigation: where it is coming from.
Viruses like this are much more common in Central and South America, and by some accounts it seems likely that the tens of thousands of illegal aliens that swamped our southern border may have brought the virus with them. A study in the Virology Journal in 2013 found a connection between Enterovirus and Latin America.
Dr. Jane Orient, executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, has also raised the question.
On September 17, Dr. Orient said:
We don’t know where it’s coming from… Are there immigrants from Central America, where this disease has allegedly been prevalent before? Should we be [looking at] the virus to see whether it’s like what’s been found in some of these countries that are just sending waves of children across our border and they haven’t been quarantined long enough to make sure they’re not sick?
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.