On The Blount Countian Facebook page last Wednesday, we reported Oneonta School Supt. Dr. Michael Douglas had confirmed two cases of Enterovirus D68 at Oneonta Elementary School. The post garnered a lot of attention, with 231 people sharing the status and more than 50 posting comments. Many commenters said the virus was blown out of proportion while others said it was more harmful than reported. In an effort to understand the virus, we spoke with local pediatrician Dr. Ramzi Malek.
According to Malek, Enterovirus D68 was first documented in 1962, but the virus hasn’t been prevalent until this year. Malek says this virus is the same as any other virus and will be treated in the same manner.
“Most kids who get the virus do fine,” Malek said.“To them, it’s like any other cold. Some children do have it worse, including those with respiratory problems such as asthma, but this is the same with something such as bronchitis. Those with respiratory problems will have it worse.”
Malek stressed this virus is similar to the common cold. Symptoms include coughing, fever, runny nose, and sneezing while severe cases display symptoms such as wheezing or difficulty breathing.
“Some cases have caused muscle paralysis and death, but those are very rare and it is usually accompanied by other complications the patient already has,” he said. “The flu is actually worse in some ways. Patients across the United States die each year due to the flu. Enterovirus D68 is simply a virus that is suddenly more prevalent and getting attention.”
According to Malek, no treatment exists for the virus. Rather, it must run its course just as other viruses must do. The ways to prevent getting sick include washing hands, not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose, cleaning surfaces, etc.
“If people don’t want to get the virus, use the same precautions as with any other cold virus,” Malek said.“We have had a lot of calls about the virus, but once we explain it to them most people understand.”
Prevention in schools
According to Oneonta Elementary principal Leslie Russell, both students who had the virus have returned to school, and they had received no more confirmed cases.
As of Tuesday, no reports of Enterovirus D68 had been reported in Blount County Schools, according to school nurse coordinator Barbara Robertson.
Upon hearing about the two Oneonta Elementary cases, Robertson and Blount County Supt. Jim Carr sent an information sheet to all principals and school nurses to alert them of the virus.
“We aren’t taking any more precautions than normal,” Carr said.“We do this all the time, but we did want to be proactive. Our nurses know to report any increase in viruses or the flu to Barbara, and we haven’t heard anything. If we need to do certain things we will, but this isn’t a special virus. A few years ago we closed school due to an increase in the flu.
“If we do have a confirmed case, we will send an information sheet out to all parents, review protocol, and make sure we wipe down all desktops and doorknobs. But we want this to be a common practice and something our faculty does for all viruses.”
For more information, contact Robertson at 625-4102.