Enterovirus-D68 : a dangerous flu

Carolina Duarte de Jesus, Translated by Aurélie Merabti
11 Novembre 2014

The flu has become a common disease, which is easily cured in Western countries. But when it comes to a virus which has developed quickly, precautions are hard to take. That is the case of the Enterovirus D68, which proved to be deadly for several people in North America.

Crédit DR
Crédit DR
The EV-D68 is quite a common kind of virus. Several groups exist and the consequences of them are usually : a cold, the flu, and others. It is transmitted through the air, and the measures to take are easy : maintain proper hygiene, frequent hand washing, be aware in public places: those are some basic rules. But it is very hard to take precaution when there is such a growth of the virus, and as such the Enterovirus D68 killed 5 children and an adult. How can something, which looks like a simple flu,  turn out to be so fatal ? That is what Dr Dele Davis (paediatrician and academic affairs vice-president of the University of Nebraska Medical Center) explained to us in an interview. 

Journal International : What is this type of Enterovirus ?

Dr. Dele Davis 
: This type of Enterovirus is called D68, it’s a type of enterovirus that’s been around for a long time, since 1962, but the outbreak we’re having right now is the largest that we’ve had, and at least 1105 cases in kids have been reported in 47 states. 

JI : Why did the outbreak occur now, since it’s been around since 1962 ?

Dr. DD : That’s a very good question, and we don’t really know. What happens is this virus picks up different parts of other viruses and this makes it a little more virulent, and that allows it to have a different degree of impact that it normally would. So my suspicion is that it changed a little bit from the way it was, and was allowed to be called a disease.

JI : And does it affect mostly children ?

Dr. DD : Yes, usually children younger than 8 years old. 

JI : But does it also affect adults ?

Dr. DD : It’s not age-limited. Most of the cases that have been reported and have been hospitalized are under 8, yes, but it can affect any age. 

JI :  And what are the symptoms ? 

Dr. DD : At the beginning it’s like a cold actually, you have a runny nose, maybe a low fever, not very high temperature, but a lot of children have wheezing, and a lot of them have had asthma in the past, but some of them have never had asthma or wheezing, which is one of the symptoms that it might be the Enterovirus. And even if you usually have asthma or wheezing it seems to be more severe, and that’s one of the symptoms. But typically it acts more like a cold. It might also cause some pain in the tummy and sometimes diarrhoea. 

JI : But it seems much more dangerous than a simple cold

Dr. DD : Yes, it can progress to be more severe. It can have symptoms of pneumonia, and there were children that have had to be admitted to hospitals, and some have had to be treated in intensive care, so it can cause a significant degree of sickness.

Consequences of the virus

Crédit Dr
Crédit Dr
The effects seem to be crystal clear, and as Dr. Dele Davis said, everyone can be affected. That was the case of an asthmatic Canadian, who died in hospital after he caught the disease. The main problem of this disease is that it looks so like a cold, or even a flu (at least initially) that it does not seem to be as dangerous as it is. The first people to be at risk are children and asthmatic people. But this is not always the case : the first child who passed away this year because of the disease did not seem to have any of the symptoms before it happened. It is very important that people are aware of this kind of virus and to keep an eye on the slightest symptom of a cold in North America nowadays.

The 1105 cases the doctor talked about do not look very important in a population of nearly 319 million people, but we have to take into account that these are only the reported cases. Similarly, the first cases came out three weeks ago, which is recent for a disease deemed rare. Therefore, this wave remains disconcerting because this is the first time that it has affected so many people. 

An awareness campaign against this disease was organized in the United States. Tired of the nearly 0% risk of Ebola in the US, the Americans want to show that another disease can more easily affect people, especially children, and can be fatal for them. This campaign is present on social network sites – particularly Twitter.

For now, there have been reported cases only in North America, but Dr.Dele Davis warns us that it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some cases in Europe as well. Indeed, this virus looks like a flu, but being less detectable, people have to get tested in a laboratory to know if it is the Enterovirus D68.