Asthmatic Children? Beware of Enterovirus!

  • A form of enterovirus associated with the common cold is causing new problems for children with pre-existing respiratory issues.  Hospitals and school districts in Alabama, Kansas, Missouri and Ohio have issued alerts about the infection through news outlets.   Some of those local hospitals are restricting visitors under the age of 12 to reduce exposures.

    Enterovirus is very common this time of year and is frequently found in young children.  Summer camps, day cares centers, and schools tend to be huge breeding grounds for spreading the infection due to close contact with other children.  Symptoms of enterovirus can include tummy aches, loose stools, fever, sore throat, cough, muscle aches and rashes.  Some kids may only have fever.  Most children are sick for three days and recover on their own (1).

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    So, why is this virus in the news if it is so common?  The problem is that the strain of enterovirus that is going around right now seems to be attacking children's respiratory systems in a new way.  Even children who have no history of asthma or wheezing are wheezing with this illness.  Children with asthma are at an even higher risk for complication-like respiratory distress (2).

    If your child develops these symptoms, don't panic but pay attention.  

    • Continue to give preventative medications, as directed by your child's physician.   
    • Monitor your child's breathing and lung function.  A peak flow meter is a good way to do that.  Some physicians may recommend a home pulse oximeter as well.  Keep a log of these readouts for your child's physician and take them to any appointments.
    • For most children the only treatment needed is fluids, rest, and treating symptoms, like fever, with appropriate medications as directed.
    • If your child has a high fever, wheezing, or other symptoms that are not responding to treatments they need to be seen by a physician.
    • Any signs of respiratory distress need to be evaluated by a physician immediately.  Symptoms of respiratory distress include rapid breathing (60 breaths a minute), working extra hard to breathe, flaring of the nostrils while breathing, retracting (pulling in of the muscles around the ribs cage), grunting, skin color changes (usually blue or dusky tone), changes in speech or any change in mental alertness (3).


    How to Avoid the Virus

    The best way to deal with this nasty infection is to prevent it in the first place!  Proper hand washing is key in reducing exposure to the virus.  When it is not possible to wash hands, encourage children to use a hand sanitizer with at least 70 percent alcohol.  Remind younger children to keep their hands out of their mouth, nose and eyes as they become a fast transport for infections into the body.  

    Steering clear of kids who are actively sick or who have had fever in the last 24-48 hours can also help reduce your child's exposure to contagious illnesses.  Sometimes this requires a patient explanation to other parents about how asthma affects your child's ability to deal with respiratory infections.  "My children have asthma and sometimes what seems like a cold in a healthy child can cause serious complications or even a hospital stay for them" is generally all the explanation needed.  

  • Keep your child's immune system at it's peak by encouraging healthy eating habits that include lots of fruits and veggies, insuring your child drinks plenty of water and maintaining an appropriate sleep schedule.  Probiotic-rich foods, like yogurts, can also help keep the gut immune system healthy.  These steps can go a long way in preventing this and other infections this school year. 

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    Have a safe and healthy school year!

Published On: September 10, 2014