(WTEN) — The New York State Department of Health is advising parents, guardians, caregivers, and health care providers to be on the lookout for a rare virus with polio-like conditions.
There are 39 confirmed cases of enterovirus 68 in children in New York, according to the health department. Recent cases have been confirmed in Western and Central New York, the Capital Region and Long Island, and specimens have been received from other regions for specialized testing at Wadsworth Center in Albany.
The virus can cause mild to severe respiratory illness or no symptoms at all. Health officials said the infection most commonly results in mild symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, cough, body aches and muscle aches. Severe symptoms, while less common, may include wheezing and difficulty breathing.
“A lot of viruses that people get are viruses that people have been exposed to in the past,” Schenectady pediatrician James Saperstone said. “That’s the problem with this virus. It’s sort of a new virus.”
In rare instances, the virus can cause acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a serious condition that causes weakness in the arms and legs.
“It’s related to the polio virus actually, but in this case, it just causes respiratory symptoms,” Saperstone explained.
The health department said there have been no cases of AFM due to Enterovirus 68 in the state so far in 2018.
“This is very uncommon, and I think we should be more concerned about washing our hands and getting our flu shot,” Saperstone said.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said AFM is on the rise. In the past four years, the CDC totaled cases found in children totaling upwards of 360.
“All parents must take simple steps to protect their children, especially those who are immune-compromised or have respiratory problems, to avoid becoming infected,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said. “We will continue to work with our partners at the CDC and local health departments to make sure that all New York families have the information they need to prevent their children and others from getting the virus.”
There is no treatment for enterovirus 68 infections other than the management of symptoms.
“It’s not a deadly virus,” Saperstone said. “It’s a virus most people will get better from.”
Officials say in general, infants, children and teenagers are most likely to get infected with enterovirus 68 and become ill because they do not yet have immunity from previous exposures to enteroviruses.
The health department advises the following prevention tips:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
Avoid touching your 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.
Use the same precautions you would use to prevent the spread of influenza.