The recent outbreak of enterovirus in young children serves a good reminder to keep immunizations up-to-date, and take simple precautions like handwashing – especially with flu season just around the corner.
The viral bug, known as EV-D68, is often the culprit behind the usual fever, runny nose and coughing of the common cold.
In 2014 cases began popping up across North America that were severe enough to warrant hospitalization mostly among children with a history of asthma.
The virus has again reared its head in Alberta and B.C. causing severe illness in eight children, most of them under two years – most likely there are many more cases, but not serious enough to warrant medical treatment.
“We have seen severe cases that required clinical care and sometimes hospital admissions, those cases have the most severe outcomes so we know about them,” explained Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, a medical health officer with Interior Health.
“Symptoms are (usually) cold-like, the person may have a fever or respiratory symptoms – it’s only rare cases that people have severe symptoms and may have neurological problems related to inflammation of either the brain or soft tissue that protects the brain, called meninges,” he added.
“So it’s important to know that a lot of cases are without these symptoms or sometimes they have mild symptoms and do not seek medical attention.”
Enterovirus and other common strains are spread person to person via respiratory droplets (sneezing, coughing, touching), so preventing an infection is key.
Good hand washing, disinfecting surfaces, sneezing and coughing into the arm, and staying home when sick are best practises to avoid spreading any virus.
While there’s no vaccine specifically for the enterovirus, keeping other immunizations up-to-date and an annual flu shot can minimize symptoms as well as potential complications.
“Unfortunately there is no vaccine for the enterovirus but we always advise families and parents to vaccinate against vaccine-preventable diseases,” advised Dr. Golmohammadi. “That helps the immune system deal with those vaccine-preventable diseases and be at its best dealing with enterovirus.”
Because flu viruses are constantly changing, predicting the upcoming season is somewhat like a shot in the dark.
That said, based on documented cases, the viruses targeted for 2016/2017 are two A-strains similar to H1N1 and H3N2, as well as a B-strain similar to a 2008-virus.
“It’s difficult to predict the extent and severity of flu season,” says the doctor. “That’s why we keep collecting information on severe cases that are tested and resulted positive.
“We retrospectively look back and collate information from all regions to have a good idea of what ages were more affected, the distribution of (infection) and if the person had (an underlying) medical condition,” he concluded.
“What we always advise is to use common sense approaches like plenty of hand washing with soap and water. Besides that, the immunization program is free for the eligible population … we advise families to get in touch with their health centres and immunize their children and loved ones to make sure their risk is low.”
Distribution of the influenza vaccine begins next month, and depending upon location, will become available from mid-October to mid-November.
Influenza is ranked among the top 10 leading causes of death in Canada, according to the National Advisory Committee of Immunization.
An average of 23,000 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza is reported to the FluWatch program each year.
An average of 12,200 hospitalizations related to influenza and approximately 3,500 deaths attributable to influenza are estimated to occur each year.
Notably, the incidence of influenza is often under reported since the illness may be confused with other viral illnesses and many people with influenza-like illness do not seek medical care or have viral diagnostic testing done.