By Brittney MacDonald, Staff Writer
An outbreak of respiratory virus enterovirus species D serotype, also known as EVD68 or EV68, has recently begun spreading throughout North America. Numerous cases have been reported in the US, and several cases have been confirmed in Alberta, with at least two potential cases being monitored in BC.
Characterized by its many symptoms, those infected can experience anything from feeling healthy to having trouble breathing to suffering paralysis. Because symptoms are so broad the virus is hard to diagnose, and can be mistaken for many other health issues. This includes similarities to the rhinovirus, or common cold, which is a relative of the enterovirus family.
Because of its numerous tells, health experts suspect that EVD68 will continue its evolution and alter its rate of infection with each new cold season. Previous incarnations of the virus appeared in the Philippines between 2008 and 2009 and resulted in the death of two children.
This strand of enterovirus has been gradually spreading throughout the world as of late, and is likely to make an appearance in Canada. EVD68 has a minimal fatality rate, and seems to only affect small groups as opposed to a widespread contagion. Experts fear this may change with the sudden and rapid evolution the virus has apparently taken since the beginning of this cold season.
In March, an Asian research team in the US released an article on their enterovirus findings: despite EVD68’s contagious similarities to the rhinovirus, EVD68’s cells behave more like the flu, attacking sialic acids which are prevalent in the upper respiratory system. This can lead to further complications like pneumonia, if the virus moves down into the lower lungs. This is a particular threat if the sufferer has a pre-existing condition such as asthma or is susceptible to pleurisy.
In a smaller range of cases, EVD68 has proven to also have the capacity of weakening the immune systems to avoid telltale flu-like symptoms such as fever or painful aches. This allows the virus to continue to work and infect healthy cells until a sudden onslaught of severe respiratory problems, or sudden paralysis takes place. Should this occur, sufferers are urged to go to emergency care even if the symptoms are only momentary.
While the virus can affect many, it’s more likely to have harsher effects on children and teenagers, as their immune systems are weaker than those of adults. In an interview with CBC, head of paediatrics at Richmond Hospital Dr. Eric Swartz stated, “For some reason it [EVD68] seems like it attacks some children with some more severity, we’re seeing some more intensive care unit submissions in the United States.”
Preventative measures are similar to those of any virus: continual hand-washing and cleanliness are encouraged. As with any virus, it is best to be diligent and well-informed, especially if you have a weakened immune system due to disease or medication, or a pre-existing respiratory condition.