Protecting kids against enteroviruses

Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about enterovirus D68 (as well as Ebola). What can I do to protect my kids?

A: Enterovirus D68, which first hit the news in late summer, causes primarily respiratory symptoms. Even though the enterovirus family of viruses is very large, this particular strain is uncommon and hasn’t been around much, leaving most people susceptible to this infection. 

This family of viruses can cause a wide variety of infections. 

Each strain seems to be a little different in the type of symptoms it causes. But viral symptoms in general — fever, body aches, headaches and decreased energy — tend to be seen with all of them. 

D68 caused more respiratory symptoms, even among children who don’t have asthma, including some significant episodes of wheezing and even cases of viral pneumonia. 

Trying to stay away from other children and adults who are ill is one of the most important prevention principles to adopt, but this isn’t always practical or even possible. 

Good hand washing and not sharing food, drinks or eating utensils can also help, but that’s difficult to enforce with 2-year-olds. 

For most children, watching for signs and symptoms of breathing difficulty or increasing respiratory problems and contacting your child’s doctor or clinic is the approach most parents ended up needing to take. 

Finally, if your child had an episode of wheezing from any cause this past summer or fall, he or she is likely at risk for additional episodes of wheezing this winter. 

The Ebola virus has, of course, been a much different situation. Thankfully the risk factors are generally well known, which include travel to affected areas in Africa or recent contact with someone later found to be infected with Ebola. The incubation period — the time from exposure to the time of showing symptoms — is up to 21 days. After that, exposed people are typically safe. 

State health department officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control are working to ensure that widespread exposure doesn’t happen.

This will limit the potential spread of this powerful virus. 

The Minnesota Department of Health has established an Ebola information line if you have further questions — 651-201-5414 or 800-657-3903 (available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday). Translation services are available for individuals whose primary language isn’t English.