MONDAY, Sept. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Forty states and the District of Columbia now have a total of 277 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68, the severe respiratory illness that typically targets children, U.S. health officials are reporting.
Officials said the 40 states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
So far, all the cases have involved children, except for one adult, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Enterovirus D68 is part of the family of viruses that includes the common cold. It can sometimes require hospitalization, especially for children with asthma.
More cases will be confirmed in the coming weeks because the testing for Enterovirus D68 is complex and can only be done by the CDC and a small number of state-run laboratories, the CDC said.
Meanwhile, health officials are investigating whether Enterovirus D68 might be the possible cause of muscle weakness or paralysis that has occurred among nine children in Colorado within the last two months.
Tests detected the virus in four of eight of the children. The status of the ninth child is not clear. All the children are being treated at Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, the Associated Press reported.
While Enterovirus 68 can cause paralysis, other germs can too, and doctors haven't pinpointed the actual culprit in these nine cases. And doctors don't know if the limb weakness or paralysis is temporary or will be long-lasting, the AP reported.
"That's why we want more information" and for doctors to report similar cases, the CDC's Dr. Jane Seward told the news service.
The first cases of Enterovirus 68 were diagnosed in August in Midwestern and Western states.
Enteroviruses are common in September as kids head back to school, with an estimated 10 million to 15 million people infected each year. But doctors believe this particular type of enterovirus is causing more severe cases than in the past.
The virus is also hard to track because it causes symptoms similar to many other infections, including the common cold, according to health experts.
Illness associated with the Enterovirus D68 infection typically lasts about a week. Children will appear to have a severe cold, with runny nose, sneezing and cough. But the illness can escalate quickly in some cases, and the child may start to have trouble breathing. It's typically transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes, according to health officials.
Antibiotics won't work against a virus, and there is no antiviral treatment available for Enterovirus D68, health officials said.
The CDC is asking doctors and public health officials to consider Enterovirus D68 as a potential suspect if widespread respiratory illnesses start occurring in their communities.
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay that good hygiene is the best defense against a child catching Enterovirus D68.
"Hand washing is paramount, and teaching kids not to touch their faces with unwashed hands is the point," Horovitz said. "Any child or adult with flu-like symptoms or common cold symptoms should be seen, evaluated and followed by doctors for any respiratory complications."
Children and adults should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds on a regular basis. They also should avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home if they themselves fall ill. Kids with asthma need to stay on top of their symptoms and take their medication, health officials said.
The virus tends to "produce severe shortness of breath in children who may not have asthma. Therefore, children with asthma must be watched closely by doctors if they contract the virus," Horovitz said.
Enteroviruses are very common, according to the CDC. There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses. People who come down with a bad summer cold often have been laid low by an enterovirus, the federal agency said.
To learn more about enteroviruses, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.