Don't panic! Facts about Human Enterovirus 68

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When I heard the news anchors talking about a dangerous virus putting a number of the nation’s children in the hospital, I turned up the volume on the television and paid close attention. As the mother of three small children, I wanted to know the signs and symptoms so I could detect the illness immediately.

I let out a frustrated sigh when I heard that the symptoms were the same as a regular cold or the flu. As my kids are regularly exposed to these other viruses, how would I know if they have the Human Enterovirus 68 strain?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a web page dedicated to the virus, and I was able to find the answers to some of my questions.

Here are a few tips for worried parents:

  • Cold and flu-like symptoms might not always be the result of Human Enterovirus 68. The CDC recommends consulting your child’s doctor if they have difficulty breathing or the symptoms worsen.
  • Children who have the most severe reaction to this virus, many requiring hospitalization, are ones with history of respiratory illness, such as asthma. If your child has asthma and experiences difficulty breathing due to an illness, please consult his/her physician.
  • It may be instinct to take your sick child into the pediatrician and ask for antibiotics when he or she starts to sniffle, but there is no cure or treatment for this virus. The CDC recommends those with milder symptoms to take over-the-counter cold medicine.

This strain of the enterovirus has us all thinking about viruses and germs well before the traditional start of the cold and flu season. Like common illnesses, we can defend against Human Enterovirus 68 by following the basic infection prevention steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently
  • Avoid sick people when possible
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • If you start showing symptoms, stay home. This not only prevents the spread of the virus to others, but helps you get the rest you need to get well.

The CDC has a great graphic on these infection prevention tips.

The best message I garnered from reading the CDC site is to not panic and to just do what moms do best – keep an eye on my kids and take them to the doctor if they experience worse symptoms than what a good night’s sleep and a bowl of chicken noodle soup will fix.

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