ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
At least 12 states have asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to investigate cases of severe respiratory illness in their states to find out if the illness is Enterovirus 68, or EV-D68. It's a disease that threatens children, especially. And to learn more about it, we're joined by Mark Pallansch, who is a virologist and director of the CDC's a Division of Viral Diseases.
Welcome to the program.
MARK PALLANSCH: Thank you.
SIEGEL: I gather what's frightening about this is the way the illness presents itself. At first, it looks like a common cold, I gather.
PALLANSCH: Yes. The progression is indeed from what is common with these infections at this time of year - and the summer cold is often one of these, or related-to viruses. And then, in these children, they progressed to having difficulty with breathing.
SIEGEL: Can it be fatal?
PALLANSCH: To date, we have not had any report of fatal cases. We're in the process of trying to determine if any fatalities have occurred.
SIEGEL: Well, since the common cold is, as we say common, at what point should a parent be concerned that this could be something far worse than a cold?
PALLANSCH: A parent should always be concerned when there is a difficulty in breathing in for a child. Particularly if the child has underlying conditions, such as asthma, which makes it difficult for that child to respond to viral infections. And those children who are otherwise healthy and progress to having difficulty breathing should always be concerned.
SIEGEL: If indeed a child is diagnosed with Enterovirus 68, what's the treatment for it?
PALLANSCH: So there - at this stage, there is no specific treatment for this virus. In all situations, the treatment is supportive to improve the child's breathing. And the viruses, like many viruses, run their course over the period of approximately a week.
SIEGEL: Was this enterovirus only recently identified, or has it been around for a while?
PALLANSCH: So the virus was actually first described more than 50 years ago, but has been seldom reported during that period of time. Over those 50 years, our ability to find and detect the virus has improved to the point where we may now be recognizing more frequently what has always occurred in the past. So a lot of these techniques are now being applied more routinely both at the CDC but also at state health departments.
SIEGEL: Do we know how it's spread?
PALLANSCH: Typically, enteroviruses are spread respiratory droplets, contact with services that are contaminated and then of course, rubbing your eyes or mouth. So it's similar to the common cold, in terms of how it's transmitted.
SIEGEL: So apart from avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing near you and washing your hands, I guess there's not much else you could do to avoid catching this?
PALLANSCH: Well, and it is something where with children, you can indeed disinfect toys and surfaces when you know that they have been in contact with sick children. So the virus can be killed on surfaces through disinfection.
SIEGEL: Mark Pallansch is the director of the CDC's Division of Viral Diseases. He spoke with us about EV-D68, a rare respiratory illness that's especially hard on children.
Thank you very much.
PALLANSCH: Thank you for having me.
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