On Sept. 18, the California Department of Public Health confirmed four enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) cases. At that time, three patients lived in San Diego County and one in Ventura County. From mid-August to Sept. 19, a total of 160 people, none of whom are adults, from 22 states were confirmed to have respiratory illness caused by EV-D68.

Dr. Ron Chapman, CDPH director and state health officer, confirmed that these are the first cases in California in 2014. There are other specimens from throughout the state being tested at CDPH labs. Enteroviruses are quite common, causing between 10 and 15 million infections each year, but this particular strain has not appeared very often since it was first isolated in California in 1962.

“We are not surprised to find EV-D68 causing some illnesses in California given the apparent widespread nature of this virus in other parts of the country,” Chapman said in the CDPH press release. More cases are anticipated in the coming weeks.

The federal Center for Disease Control expects that the number of infections is going to drop later in the year. Most enterovirus infections in the U.S. occur in the summer and fall, so these infections are coming at a typical time for enteroviruses, Anne Schuchat, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters in a Sept. 8 teleconference.

EV-D68, a rare viral strain, causes respiratory illness and the virus likely spreads from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches contaminated surfaces.

“It’s not a new strain. It’s the same, based on the sequencing results we have, as EV- D68 strains identified in the United States last year and in previous specimens from other countries. So this isn’t a new virus,” Schuchat said.

Symptoms of EV-D68 include fever (although fever may not be present), runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body and muscle aches.  Some children have more serious illness with breathing difficulty and wheezing, particularly children with a history of asthma.

Parents should seek medical attention immediately for children who are having any breathing difficulty (wheezing, difficulty speaking or eating, belly pulling in with breaths, blueness around the lips), particularly if the child suffers from asthma.

There is no specific treatment for persons with EV-D68, nor is there a vaccine to prevent it. However, everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an influenza vaccine every year to protect themselves against that important cause of respiratory disease.

More information about EV-D68 may be found on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/non-polio-enterovirus/about/ev-d68.html.

The best way to prevent transmission of enteroviruses is to:

  • wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers;
  • avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick;
  • disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.