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Schools keep wary eye out for ‘new’ bug

BY ABBY MORRIS-FRYE
and ASHLEY RADER
STAR STAFF
abby.frye@elizabethton.com
ashley.rader@elizabethton.com

It’s a common late-summer problem.
But this year’s version has caused an uncommon strain in some states.
‘It’ is a more-serious version of a late-summer illness many have had, but thought of as a bad cold.
Local health and school officials are keeping an eye out for the respiratory disease called Enterovirus D68 – EV-D68 for short – that has been sending large numbers of children to the hospital in several states.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 10 states have contacted the CDC for assistance in investigating clusters of enterovirus: North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri, Colorado, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“Enteroviruses, which bring on symptoms like a very intense cold, aren’t unusual. They’re actually common,” said a statement released by the CDC. “When you have a bad summer cold, often what you have is an enterovirus.”
Dr. David Kirschke, with the Northeast Regional Health Office, said the Department of Health and the regional office are monitoring the reports of outbreaks and keeping an eye out for similar cases in the area.
So far, there have not been any confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68 in Tennessee, he said.
Kirschke said enteroviruses “circulate every summer” and the Regional Health Office recommends everyone use the standard precautions used during flu season to avoid contracting an enterovirus. He said that means frequent hand-washing using soap and water, covering your cough or sneeze, disinfecting common surfaces, avoiding contact with ill persons and avoiding sharing cups, utensils or water bottles.
“If you or your child have severe symptoms we encourage you to see your healthcare provider,” Kirschke said. “We always encourage people not to go to work or school if they are ill.”
Kirschke said flu season will begin soon and it is often difficult to tell the difference between flu virus and other viruses – such as enterovirus.
Beth Bare, director of the Coordinated School Health Program for Carter County schools, said the school system is also focusing on prevention when it comes to enterovirus.
“Just doing all the things we normally do to prevent the spread of viruses,” Bare said. “Things like making sure we have soap and water available for handwashing, disinfecting desks and commonly touched items such as doorknobs.”
“These are all things we normally do during cold and flu season,” she added.
Elizabethton City Schools Director of Coordinated School Health Regina Wilder said her office had been in contact with the regional health office about the virus and the information gathered from the office is being distributed to school nurses and principals.
In addition to hand washing and disinfecting, she said students were being encouraged to cough into their elbows or shoulders instead of their hands.
“This helps slow the spread of germs because it is not on their hand to be passed on to other children or surfaces,” Wilder said. “Good hand washing skills is a must too.”
Bare said the school system is keeping an eye on the students’ health through the school nurses. “Our policy at school is if they have a fever of more than 100 we send them home,” she said.
From the information given to the school system, Bare said enterovirus presents itself as a common cold but some individuals experience more severe symptoms, including fever or rashes.
“If your child is showing severe symptoms we recommend seeing their pediatrician,” Bare said. “If in doubt, we always encourage you to see your pediatrician.”
Wilder also said no cases of the virus had been reported in Tennessee and noted symptoms were not that different from other viruses, like the common cold.
“The symptoms are cough, fever and congestion, so it sounds like any other virus,” she said. “If someone does get sick, supportive care is recommended. Stay hydrated and stay home from school. Right now there is no way to tell it from any other virus, so we are treating it with the same precautions we always take.”
Bare said the school system is continuing to monitor reports from the CDC and the Tennessee Department of Health while developing strategies to prevent the spread of the virus.
The CDC says what makes this current season unusual is the number of hospitalizations associated with the virus. The particular strain of enterovirus, which is being called EV-D68, has been shown to cause more severe symptoms in children than other types of the virus, which the CDC said could be behind the increase in hospitalizations.
The enterovirus season typically hits its peak in September, the CDC said.
There is no vaccine and no specific treatment for the infections and the CDC says many enterovirus infections are considered to be “mild and self-limited,” requiring only symptomatic treatment. But the virus can become more severe in individuals already suffering from a respiratory illness, such as asthma.