With all the news about enterovirus 68 sending hundreds of children to hospitals, it’s easy to panic when you hear about a case in your neighborhood — or, even worse, if your child starts coughing.
But please, don’t panic.
This virus has certainly caused trouble and tragedy. But enteroviruses are incredibly common, causing 10-15 million illnesses a year — and usually, those illnesses are minor. This one, for reasons we don’t fully understand, is stronger, and is worse for kids than for adults.
I can hear you saying: So why shouldn’t I panic? Here’s why.
Enterovirus 68 is just a monster of a bad cold. Yes, it can make kids sick, and some kids very sick. But it’s nothing we can’t handle. Most cases can be managed at home, with lots of fluids and TLC. And should kids get sicker and need to come to the hospital, we know what to do. We have medications that help them feel better, as well as fluids and oxygen if they need it (and we help parents with the TLC, too). Kids who get this virus get better; we’ve just had our first confirmed case here at Boston Children’s (it takes a while for the testing results, as specimens have to be sent to a special laboratory) and that child is home and fine.
Instead of panicking, here’s what you absolutely should do to prevent getting sick (from this and other illnesses, including flu):
- Make sure everyone in the family washes their hands often. Using plain old soap and water and washing for 20 seconds (about the time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday”) is perfect. Carry hand sanitizer for those times when you are away from a sink.
- Teach children to cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of the elbow, not the hand.
- Don’t share cups or utensils, and wipe down shared objects and surfaces (toys, doorknobs, countertops) regularly.
- To the extent that you can, stay away from sick people.
- Get your flu shot! It won’t fight off enterovirus, but it will fight off the flu.
Because this virus seems to be particularly tough for children with asthma, it’s really important that children with asthma take all of their medication as prescribed — especially their “controller” or preventative medication. Sometimes when kids are well families slack off a bit on those meds, wondering if they are really necessary; please, give them regularly now. If you aren’t sure what to do, or if you need refills, call your doctor.
Speaking of which, it’s really important that you be watchful of your child if they have cold symptoms (whether or not they have asthma), and call the doctor (or go to an emergency room) if your child:
- Has a worsening cough that isn’t responding to home remedies or medications.
- Has any trouble breathing (rapid or heavy breaths, sucking in around the ribs, having trouble talking, looking pale).
- Won’t drink, is urinating much less than usual, or seems much sleepier than usual.
- Has a fever of 102 or higher (for babies, or if your child has a health problem that makes them more prone to infection, your doctor may want you to call for a lower fever — check with the office for instructions).
- Worries you in any other way — it’s always better to give a call if you are worried.
Remember: It’s just a monster of a cold. Chances are it won’t happen to you — but if it does, you and your family will get through it. And we’re here to help.