Enterovirus D68 cases confirmed in Minnesota

Published 9:46 am Thursday, September 18, 2014

By Peter Cox and Lorna Benson

MPR.org/90.2 FM

State and university health officials Wednesday confirmed a dozen cases of the severe respiratory virus Enterovirus D68 in Minnesota.

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The University of Minnesota said there were 11 patients with the virus at its children’s hospital in Minneapolis.

Another case surfaced in a child treated at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Department of Health said, adding that child is now recovering at home.

“The patient is doing very, very well,” said Patsy Stinchfield, infectious disease director for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “And the story is really similar to what we’re hearing again. Runny nose to begin with, difficulty breathing, got the therapy, went home and is doing quite well.”

Enterovirus D68 is an uncommon virus that has sickened children in at least a dozen Midwest states. Even before it was confirmed, hospitals in the Twin Cities area were busy treating patients with severe respiratory problems that match the symptoms associated with the virus.

There is no vaccine to prevent Enterovirus D68 and it cannot be treated with antibiotics. But health officials say hand washing and covering coughs can slow the spread of the virus.

The university plans to test more specimens to see how widespread the virus is among its patients.

“And then we want to take it another step and ask ‘why?’” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, director of the pediatric infectious disease division at the U of M. “Why did this emerge in September of 2014 and cause this epidemic of serious respiratory tract disease when this was a virus that in the past always sort of had a low profile and was never really very interesting?”

Schleiss says U of M researchers want to find out if the virus has changed in a way that allows it to cause more severe illness.

State health officials confirmed Enterovirus D68 Tuesday night in a sample submitted by a hospital that’s part of Minnesota’s surveillance system for respiratory infections.

“This highlights the importance of having a surveillance system in place which can provide information on which respiratory viruses are circulating in the state and help us understand the burden caused by a particular virus,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield said in a statement.