As many may have heard, last week, an enterovirus started to take over the Midwest. An enterovirus is a type of RNA virus that usually enters the body through a gastrointestinal tract and typically cause mild flu-like symptoms. However, in rare cases, the enterovirus can develop into a serious medical condition and cause heart problems, brain diseases or even paralysis (MedTerms, “Enterovirus,” 2014).
The current enterovirus that has been circulating is known as D68 and has hospitalized 97 adults for severe conditions as of September 12. Over 500 kids total have been treated in hospitals for less severe cases. That number is clearly going to grow as D68 has now spread into the Northeast, including New York. D68 was previously a very uncommon strain of enteroviruses, but it has been considered a semi-serious virus because it can cause severe respiratory illness (CDC, “Enterovirus D68,” 2014). D68 also spreads more easily than a lot of other enteroviruses; it can be spread through coughing or sneezing (i.e. wash your hands… a lot). At this time, there is no treatment for D68, but respiratory therapies have been introduced for those with a severe case of the virus (LocalSYR, “Enterovirus D68,” 9.12.14).
On Friday, Sept. 12, the New York State Department of Health made an announcement that D68 had entered New York territory, and more than a dozen cases were recognized. New York is the first state in the Northeast to confirm the presence of D68, but it is likely that other neighboring states will also soon announce a D68 takeover. Connecticut has also made a statement that D68 is present.
Although D68 has mainly affected infants, children and teenagers, adults may carry the virus and circulate D68. Adults with asthma are also considered high risk. State officials are worried about the continuous spread of D68 and ask all to take action. New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker stated, “It is important that we follow common sense rules to prevent the spread of this virus, as we do for flu and other contagious illnesses. Because there is no specific treatment or vaccination against this virus, our best defense is to prevent it by practicing proper hygiene” (CNN, “Enterovirus D68 confirmed in New York,” 9.13.14).
While the enterovirus will most likely not cause Vassar students severe illness, it may still have an impact on our campus. Vassar has two childcare facilities on campus: the Infant Toddler Center and the Wimpfheimer Nursery School. Student-employment jobs are present at both locations, and students may aid in spreading or becoming infected with the virus. Another aspect to consider is that many faculty members have children, and the virus may have an effect on their families.
Hopefully D68 will not infiltrate Poughkeepsie, NY. It is also important to consider that, while I stressed some of the severe side effects, these severe effects are present only about 10 percent of the time. While about 500 children have been hospitalized, the virus has sickened over 1,000 children, but, for 900 of these children, it was not considered a serious case. Dr. Gail Shust, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Infectious Diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, echoes that parents and students should keep an eye out for warning signs but that no one should be panicking; children are exposed to germs everyday as a part of life. “A healthy, normal school-age kid can get as many as seven to 10 viruses a year and that’s pretty normal,” she said (CBS News, “Protecting your kids from enterovirus D68,” 9.8.14).
Knowing all this information, I can’t help but wonder how D68 started spreading in the first place, and, while we are told not to worry, containing the virus has not been very effective. D68, which first appeared in 1962, is considered one of the rarest forms of enteroviruses. A lot of doctors keep saying “we haven’t seen it in such a long time,” yet no one knows how this virus rebirthed. The source is therefore a total mystery.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the assistant surgeon general for the U.S. Public Health Service and the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, states that “it’s one that we don’t know as much about as we would like,” and suggests that part of the reason we don’t know the source of D68 is because it was so uncommon it wasn’t considered a high priority virus to investigate. However, she also points out that it is likely that many cases of D68 in previous years have simply been undiagnosed or misdiagnosed since there is a very specific throat test that is needed to confirm that someone has D68 (CNN, “Virus hitting U.S. may be tip of iceberg,” 9.8.14).
Throughout the next few weeks, I expect to hear that D68 has continued to spread. At this point, I can only hope it stays manageable. I question how health professionals as well as the media are seeing this virus: is this simply a modification of the flu or is this a virus that will cause an epidemic for children’s health? While, luckily, at this time, D68 has not been termed responsible for the death of a child, the fact that over 1,000 children have been diagnosed with the virus worries me. We knew from the first 100 diagnoses that D68 was present, yet 900 cases still occurred after, and the virus has spread across the country. Was this not considered a high priority when first diagnosed in the Midwest? How about now? It will be interesting to see how D68 continues to spread and how both health professionals and the media deal with it.
—Delaney Fisher ’15 is a neuroscience major.