Doctor: Don’t fear Enterovirus, know about it

Western Washington has seen at least two cases of Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), raising concerns about the illness, which earlier swept across the United States.

EV-D68, one of more than 100 known enteroviruses, causes symptoms similar to a common cold, said Dr. James A. Polo, medical vice president at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Tacoma.

Enteroviruses usually are not dangerous, but this strain has caused an increase in hospitalizations around the country.

Polo said it is important that people not fear the virus, but be aware of it.

Q: What is the virus EV-D68?

A: This particular strain, D68, is not a new virus. It was first identified in the 1960s, but for whatever reason this past season they have seen a spike in this one virus. What makes this one a bit different is it tends to cause more respiratory-type problems.

There is no vaccine for this virus, and there are no antibiotics because antibiotics don’t treat viruses. In general, the grand majority of people who have this virus will do just fine.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: In general, the main symptoms are the same symptoms you would get for a routine cold: runny nose, cough, maybe some congestion, maybe a little fever and achy muscles.

If it becomes apparent somebody is having more significant symptoms related to the respiratory track — more of a cough, more congestion — then it could be it is related to this virus. But there is no real way of telling without doing formal testing.

Q: How dangerous is this virus?

A: Enteroviruses that are nonpolio-type are not dangerous; they just cause cold symptoms.

This particular strain is really not that dangerous, but it does require that we are very careful so that people get appropriate supportive care treatment — fluids, rest, and some people have required ventilatory support.

Even though some viruses are very dangerous, this is not one of those.

Q: Should you get tested?

A: There is not a lot of point to testing. If people came to the hospital and say they want to get tested and we tested them, knowing they had this virus or not doesn’t change anything we do.

The recommendation from the state Department of Health is: If we have patients with very severe symptoms where they need critical care — they are admitted to the hospital, they potentially are on a ventilator, they have a lot of symptoms that look like they have a viral illness and we’ve ruled out everything else — then we will test them.

But it is really just to verify we have this virus in this area. We are not recommending routine testing, and it doesn’t change treatment.

Q: When should you go see your doctor?

A: In general, people should not change what they have done in the past relative to when they want to go see their doctor.

Q: When should you go to the hospital or urgent care?

A: Anytime a parent is afraid their child has something going on and they don’t feel comfortable, we would always say you could go to an urgent care center or an emergency room.

I would not recommend people go to the emergency room for a routine cold. They should first call their primary care doctor, who knows them very well.

If a child, though, is having significant respiratory symptoms — difficulty breathing, significant asthma-type exasperation — those children should go to the emergency room as they would any other time of the year.

Q: Who is particularly susceptible to this virus?

A: The children who are particularly susceptible are the children who already have some kind of respiratory problem. It appears this virus is a bit more likely to be prevalent in kids with asthma, as an example.

Q: How long does this virus usually last?

A: Most viruses, when you get infected, usually you are sick for a day or two and then you recover.

Typically, during this season, we experience a two-month increase of viral illnesses, but each individual is usually infected with a virus and better within just a few days.

Q: How does this virus spread?

A: Mainly with transmission of secretions and mainly with secretions that are respiratory. So, saliva, tear drops, runny noses, that is the main way this virus will spread.

Q: How can you prevent getting this virus?

A: The best way to decrease the risk for getting any virus is to always make sure you are following good hygiene rules — making sure you clean your hands, making sure you don’t touch surfaces you don’t need to touch, staying away from areas where there would be large congregations of people.

Is there something that people could do to make their risk zero? There isn’t.

Q: Are there any after-effects?

A: There don’t appear to be any residual effects. In other words, there’s no damage that is residual after recovery.

Q: Can getting the flu shot help lower your risk of getting this virus?

A: The flu is a total different illness. It is not this virus.

We encourage people to get the flu vaccine, but these are two different things. We are not quite into flu season yet. My hope is that this virus going around will remind people, “Oh, yeah, flu season is going up and I need to consider getting my vaccine.”