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New York kids among those with virus that can cause polio-like symptoms

Growing numbers of EV-D68 have been diagnosed nationwide. Most cases, including all the ones in NY so far, have caused nothing worse than respiratory illnesses, officials say. 

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in a

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in a news conference on Long Island last year.   Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

Children on Long Island are among 39 statewide who have contracted an illness caused by a virus dubbed EV-D68, which has been increasingly diagnosed among youngsters nationwide in recent weeks, New York State health officials said Friday.

In several out-of-state cases, children have developed polio-like symptoms. Infections of that magnitude so far have not been documented in New York.

"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 in a statement Friday.

The pathogen, known as an enterovirus, can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, or no symptoms at all. Infection most often results in mild symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, cough, body aches and muscle aches. In rare instances the pathogen can cause what's known as acute flaccid myelitis, a serious condition marked by polio-like weakness in the arms or legs.

Children affected by the acute manifestation of the virus must be hospitalized. No cases of the severe form have been confirmed in the state, health officials said Friday.

The two local health departments on Long Island referred questions about the infection to state health officials. The state would not say Friday how many of the 39 affected children were from Long Island.

The state Health Department offered several tips for parents to help children avoid infection. The precautions are basically the same ones recommended to avoid the flu. Hand-washing with soap and water is paramount, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Disinfect toys, doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces, especially if someone is sick. Finally, avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.

"Most children who get it are mildly symptomatic," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside and a specialist in infectious diseases. "It's more of a problem for children than adults because children are less likely to have been exposed to it. Adults are more likely to have had exposure at some point in their lives and have immunity to it."

Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said parents should be vigilant but that the virus is not life-threatening. 

All 39 New York cases of EV-D68 were confirmed by Wadsworth Laboratory, the state Health Department's lab in Albany. Results are being shared with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to aid the federal agency's tracking of the virus nationally, state health officials 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," Zucker said.

Small numbers of EV-D68 cases have been seen regularly in the United States since 1987, state health officials said Friday. Exposure to enteroviruses occurs most frequently in summer and fall. Because a mix of enteroviruses circulate annually, different ones can be common in any given year.

In 2014 a wave of EV-D68 cases started emerging in August and ran through January of the following year, according to the CDC, which documented more than 1,153 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia.


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