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6 Things you Need to Know about the Enterovirus 68 Outbreak

Update Date: Oct 03, 2014 12:37 PM EDT

Since August, a respiratory virus has been circulating throughout 45 states within the U.S. The virus, known as enterovirus 68, starts off with symptoms that are similar to the common cold. The symptoms can progress rapidly and become serious enough for hospitalization. In the majority of the cases, the children have bounced back from the infection. However, in other cases, the virus has led to more serious consequences.

Here are 6 things you need to know about the outbreak:

1. No one knows how the outbreak started

Officials have not identified how the outbreak started. However, they noted that outbreaks are typically more common during the fall due to the fact that children are returning to school. The school setting encourages sharing and if students are using the same items without cleaning their hands properly, a lot of them are bound to catch some infection.

2. Scientists are not 100% sure of how the virus spreads

Since enterovirus 68 is not a very common infection, studies on the virus are limited. Due to this, scientists are not exactly sure of how it spreads. They know that the respiratory virus can spread via contact with infected saliva, mucous and feces. However, researchers are not sure if the virus could spread in any other ways but they recommend people who are sick to stay home until they feel better. People in general should always wash their hands with soap.

3. Enterovirus 68 might be linked to Paralysis

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating a link between the virus and paralysis. According to the federal agency, nine children from Denver, CO are suffering from neurological complications that led to partial paralysis after being infected with a respiratory virus. Four of them so far have tested positive for enterovirus 68.

"It is a spectrum of arm or leg weakness that can be as mild as weakness or as severe as paralysis," said Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer and executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, according to ABC News. "What ties them all together though are findings of spots or lesions in the grey matter of the spinal cord on MRI scans."

4. There is no set treatment

There are no vaccines that can protect children from enterovirus 68. There are also no anti-viral medications for it. Instead, doctors treat the symptoms and give the immune system time to fight the infection.

5. Virus affects people differently

When it comes to any virus, the infection can affect people differently. For young children and people suffering from asthma, a respiratory infection will most likely lead to more severe symptoms.

6. This is not the first outbreak

Although this nationwide outbreak continues to hospitalize children, it is not the first time that enterovirus 68 has caused an outbreak on U.S. soil. In a 2011 CDC report, officials detailed cases of this virus in September 2009, and in August and September 2010.

So far, there have been almost 500 confirmed cases with four fatalities. Experts believe that the infection rate is higher since some cases are milder and might not have been reported.

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