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Cluster of patients test positive for possible enterovirus infection in King County

Dr. Danielle Zerr, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Seattle Children's Hospital, and Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease and Epidemiology at Public Health - Seattle & King County answered questions about the cases in Seattle on Thursday. (KIRO Radio/Tim Haeck)

A respiratory illness that has sickened hundreds of children in 10 states may have made its way to Washington.
King County Public Health reports a cluster of patients with severe respiratory illness tested positive for a possible enterovirus infection.

The Center for Disease Control is conducting additional testing to see if this is the enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) strain that’s been responsible for the sicknesses in other states.

Seattle Children’s Hospital has treated 15 patients, ages six months to 14 years. Eleven have been admitted this week. Five of the children were admitted to the intensive care unit.

“I don’t want anyone to panic about this,” said Jeff Duchin, chief of communicable diseases and epidemiology at Public Health Seattle King County. “This is still a relatively small number of patients.”

The suspected germ, enterovirus 68, is an uncommon strain of a very common family of viruses that typically hit from summertime through autumn.

There are no confirmed cases of EV-D68 in King County or Washington state at this time, but health officials say they would not be surprised if it is here.

“Although we can’t currently say that these cases are definitely due to EV-D68, it would not be surprising if the virus is confirmed on further testing,” said Duchin.

State health department spokesman Marqise Allen says the 15 cases were transported to Seattle Children’s hospital from across Washington state, with one from Montana.

The CDC reports cases of enterovirus D68 have been confirmed in six states including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky and Missouri.

Public Health has contacted hospitals in King County “letting them know that they should be prepared for a surge of patients, both at their emergency department level and potentially admitted to the hospital, requiring intensive care and to think about supplies and staff and how they would manage that surge,” Duchin said.

If this enterovirus strain does appear locally, King County Public Health warns many could develop respiratory infections in a short period of time, as it spreads similarly to the common cold. Most would experience the virus as a mild illness, but those with asthma face more risk, health officials say.

“It’s important for families to make sure asthma symptoms are under control, and to see a health care provider if a person with asthma develops a respiratory illness that worsens asthma symptoms,” Duchin said.

While children with asthma are especially at risk, reported cases include children without asthma who have developed asthma-like breathing problems. The University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital has treated several cases, including extremely sick children requiring life-support machines, said Dr. Rachel Wolfson, an intensive care unit physician.

King County Health says those not suffering from a severe form of the illness do not need to seek medical attention.
To decrease the risk of contracting the infection, they said to wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Alcohol gels do not work as well for these viruses. Avoid contact with sick people and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. They also encourage those who are sick to not go to school or work.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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