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Enterovirus D68 Symptoms: May Be Responsible For Four Other Deaths in U.S.

( [email protected] ) Oct 02, 2014 07:27 PM EDT

Enterovirus 68
13-year-old Will Cornejo is recovering at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014 from what doctors suspect is the respiratory virus, human enterovirus 68 that has come to Colorado. (Photo: Cyrus McCrimmon/ Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Rhode Island Department of Health reported yesterday that a Rhode Island child died last week from complications related to a rare respiratory virus that has spread across the United States.

According to Dr. Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, the girl, Emily Ortrando, 10, died from a combination of enterovirus 68 (also known as EV-D68) and a staph infection. The health department noted that although most people survive EV-D68 infections, the infection combo that affected Ortrando is very rare and dangerous.  

"We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island's children," Fine said in a statement. "Many of us will have EV-D68. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely."

California public health officials said Friday that 14 patients in the state had been diagnosed with enterovirus D68, including one patient who is paralyzed in Los Angeles. Dr. Gil Chavez, the state's epidemiologist, said the 14 Californians ranged in age from under 1-year-old to age 15, and most suffered from asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted on its website that EV-D68 may be responsible for four more deaths. However, the role of the virus in those deaths remains unclear, according to Mark Pallansch, director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases.

"We do know of patients who have died, and specimens from those patients indicate that they were infected," Pallansch said.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, children are most at risk from the virus. This is especially true for children with asthma.

Earlier this week, a USA Today article noted that the CDC reported 277 infections in 40 states related to EV-D68. The latest CDC numbers indicate that the infection has been confirmed in 472 people, mostly children, in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

An EV-D68 infection, which is related to the virus that causes polio, can initially be confused with the common cold because both viruses have similar mild symptoms such as runny nose or mild fever; what makes EV-D68 different is that its symptoms can develop into wheezing, other breathing problems, and even muscle weakness and temporary paralysis in some cases.

Although there are no vaccines or antivirals that work against EV-D68, Fine noted that the flu can be a bigger problem and urged the public to get a flu shot.

"While we can't prevent EVD-68 with a vaccine, it's important for everyone to get the flu shot - it is as bad as or worse than EVD-68. And, we do have a shot to prevent the flu. The sooner you get the flu shot, the better," Fine said in a statement.

To combat the spread of EV-D68, health officials also recommended frequent hand washing, not touching any part of the face, and cleaning surfaces often. EV-D68 is not a new enterovirus though; it was first identified in California back in 1962.