A Rhode Island child died last week of an infection associated with the rare respiratory virus that has been sickening children around the country, health officials said on Wednesday.
The child died of a staph infection associated with an infection of enterovirus 68, or EV-D68, the uncommon viral strain that has been found in hundreds of children in 41 states and the District of Columbia.
“We are all heartbroken to hear about the death of one of Rhode Island’s children,” Michael Fine, director of the the Rhode Island Department of Health, said in a statement. “Many of us will have EV-D68. Most of us will have very mild symptoms and all but very few will recover quickly and completely. The vast majority of children exposed to EV-D68 recover completely.”
Enteroviruses are incredibly common, as more than 100 strains cause between 10 and 15 million infections each year. Many people who are infected with enteroviruses don’t get sick or only develop a cold. This particular strain, which can cause severe breathing problems, has not been seen very often since it was first identified in 1962 in California.
But this year, it has cropped up across the country, sending children as young as six weeks old to the hospital and leading to concerns over how far this virus would ultimately spread. No vaccination is available for this virus, which spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
This rare virus was found in four people who have died so far this year, but it is not known how much of a factor the infection was, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The role that EV-D68 infection played in these deaths is unclear at this time,” Karen Mason of the CDC’s viral diseases division wrote in an e-mail. She said that state and local health departments are still investigating what happened.
There have been more than 470 cases confirmed across the country so far this year, almost all of them affecting children. The likely number of actual cases is much, much larger, as health officials in many states suspect that there are many cases that have not been formally diagnosed yet. (One hospital in Kansas City, Mo., told us that they believe that up to 450 children with this virus were treated there last month.) Still, the CDC says that since enteroviruses are more common in the summer and fall, the number of infections is expected to drop later in the fall.
The official cause of death in Rhode Island is the staph infection associated with the enterovirus, said Christina Batastini, a spokeswoman for the department. But again, the precise role the enterovirus played in this child’s death is not settled, she said.
“As of now, it’s unclear which one caused the death,” she told The Post on Wednesday.
The child’s age and hometown have not been released yet, Batastini said.
A child in New Jersey died last week of an undetermined respiratory illness, according to the Times of Trenton, but it is not known if the enterovirus strain played a role. The New Jersey Department of Health said Tuesday that it is awaiting test results seeing if this child had the rare EV-D68 strain.
Doctors in Colorado reported last week that several children who tested positive for this strain have experienced paralysis or limb weakness, causing the CDC to ask health officials nationwide to watch for similar symptoms.
A report authored by neurologists earlier this year found that up to 25 children in California may have suffered from a polio-like illness that caused the paralysis of some limbs. Some of these children were found to have had the rare enterovirus 68 strain.
[This post has been updated to note that the virus has been found in four deaths, rather than three; the CDC had said three deaths and increased the number Wednesday.]