2014-10-09 / Front Page

Vigilant Against Enterovirus

By Olga Enger

Although the Ebola virus has dominated recent headlines, another deadly virus is already in our schools. An outbreak of the Enterovirus D68 has landed hundreds of children in the hospital and has been possibly connected to four deaths, including a 10-year-old girl from Rhode Island. Last week, officials announced that the death of a New Jersey preschooler was directly linked to the EV-D68 virus.

A mix of enteroviruses circulate every fall. However, this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a higher number of the EV-D68 strain, almost exclusively among children.

Despite the nationwide outbreak, local schools appear unaffected. Absences are at similar levels compared to last year, reported superintendents from both the Newport and Middletown school districts.

“Our custodial team has been vigilant about cleaning efforts and teachers have been reminded to have students wash their hands often,” said Middletown Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger. Enterovirus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches a contaminated surface.

To educate families on the outbreak, the districts sent out information provided by the Rhode Is- land Department of Health (DOH).

“We always encourage everyone to wash hands thoroughly and often, so that continues,” said Newport Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

Health care professionals are not required to send enterovirus samples to the DOH, as they do with influenza, so it is difficult to track the virus at a local level.

However, a local pediatrician’s office has not reported an unseasonable spike in patients. “We have not experienced an outrageous amount of respiratory illness this year,” said Dr. Martha Ullman, a pediatrician with Aquidneck Medical Associates, which has offices in Newport and Portsmouth. It is not unusual to see an increase in communicable disease around this time of year due to students returning to school and changes in the weather, added the doctor.

A girl from Cumberland, R.I. tested positive for the virus, but according to the DOH, she died of staph sepsis, which is a bacterial infection that can trigger an immune system response.

Although a small portion of the population may encounter complications during an EV-D68 outbreak, it is rare.

“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,” said DOH Director Dr. Michael Fine in a statement.

Mild symptoms typically include fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough and body aches. Patients with more severe symptoms may experience wheezing or have trouble breathing.

The United States experiences between 10 million to 15 million enterovirus cases each year, according to the CDC.

“At this point in time, we recommend common sense prevention methods,” said Ullman. “Enteroviruses are common viruses. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is one form of the virus.”

Despite the news, one mother said she is not overly concerned about the outbreak.

“My son spends lots of time outside in fresh air, but only around those he knows and people who are healthy,” said Newport resident Gigi Di Renzo, about her 3-monthold son, Owen. “I'm following the recommended vaccine schedule as well; so I'm doing all I can to make sure he has a good healthy immune system without sheltering him too much.”

If a child becomes ill, parents should keep the student home from school and monitor symptoms, said Ullman. If the child has difficulty breathing or if symptoms progress, it is time to call your doctor. Kids with asthma are particularly vulnerable to EV-D68.

One way parents can protect their children from serious illness is to follow their vaccine schedule and get an annual flu shot, said the doctor.

“Fine issued a report on the enterovirus and he told people to get a flu shot,” Ullman pointed out. “People think, ‘Oh, it’s just the flu,’ but that’s a preventable death,” she said.

Last year, the flu sent 639 Rhode Island residents to the hospital and was the cause of 32 deaths, according to state officials.

There are many local flu clinics scheduled locally. For more information about the flu vaccine or to find out where to get vaccinated, call 401-222-5960 or visit health.ri.gov.

Return to top