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Kids Sick With Suspected Enterovirus Hospitalized At Seattle Children's Hospital

Jenny Ingram

A virus that has sickened childrenacross the Midwest may have arrived in western Washington. Public health officials said 15 children have been hospitalized at Seattle Children’s Hospital, including five in intensive care, with symptoms that match infection from Enterovirus D-68.

That virus has sent at least 84 children to the hospital in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but this appears to be the first sign of it on the West Coast. The virus usually causes cold-like illness, but sometimes comes with severe respiratory symptomslike coughing and difficulty breathing.

Doctors said it is not yet confirmed; a screening test shows the patients have been sickened by a virus at least in the same family, and doctors are now awaiting more test results. Meanwhile, they’re preparing for a wave of new patients.

Could Be Circulating Widely

Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable disease and epidemiology at Public Health Seattle & King County, said the patients come from around the region, meaning it’s likely whatever is causing the illness is circulating fairly widely.

“So what we might be seeing here is an early warning. It’s possible that it’s unrelated to D-68 — we’ll find out. But it wouldn’t be surprising to know that enterovirus D-68 is here, as it is in many other communities in the U.S. right now,” he said.

Those other communities include six states with confirmed outbreaks, with at least six more reporting suspected cases.

Extra Vigilance For Kids With Asthma

Enterovirus D-68 has been known to science for decades, but has been considered extremely rare until recently.

The virus mostly affects children, and is especially severe in kids with asthma or other preexisting lung conditions. Health authorities said parents of those children should be extra vigilant to manage their asthma, to help prevent complications from the virus.

They said parents don’t need to see a doctor for most other children unless they have severe and worsening cold symptoms or difficulty breathing.  

There is no vaccine for the virus, and no treatment beyond supportive therapies like breathing machines. There have been no reported fatalities from the virus nationwide.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.