A respiratory virus new to the Kansas City area has Children’s Mercy Hospital mobilizing the way it does during the peak of the winter cold and flu season.
“Usually August is our low season for respiratory virus,” Mary Anne Jackson, chief of the infectious diseases section at Children’s Mercy, said Friday.
But the hospital has been packed this month with children with coughs and other respiratory symptoms. The hardest hit have been children with asthma whose condition has been aggravated by the infection and who have had trouble breathing.
Many of the cases appear to be caused by human enterovirus 68 (HEV68), a virus that has been reported, mostly among children, around the U.S. and globally but has not been noted before in Kansas City.
HEV68 usually maintains a low profile, Jackson said. Clusters of just four to 30 cases have been reported elsewhere, she said.
But tests run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on 21 intensive care patients at Children’s Mercy during the first three weeks of August already have turned up 19 with the virus. And the number may rise as more children are tested.
“Any virus new to a community will see a fair amount of disease at first,” Jackson said.
Last week, Children’s Mercy implemented “winter mobilization,” a routine measure during flu season that includes rules against visits to patients by children age 12 and younger.
Jackson said there is no vaccine against HEV68 and no antiviral drugs to treat it. Children’s Mercy patients are receiving asthma medications, oxygen and intravenous fluids as needed, she said.
If children develop mild symptoms, parents should treat them as they would a cold, Jackson said. But any children with difficulty breathing should be seen by a doctor, she said.
Jackson said new cases of respiratory illnesses at Children’s Mercy appear to have reached a plateau in recent days, a sign that the outbreak may be waning in Kansas City.
“This could burn itself out very quickly,” she said.