Seasonal virus sickens Michigan residents

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing – — Michigan now has its first cases of a seasonal respiratory and stomach virus that has made thousands ill in 21 other states, Michigan Department of Community Health officials said Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory has confirmed three specimens submitted by the department tested positive for enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), according to the announcement.

The confirmation of the cases in the state "is not cause for alarm because we've been treating kids with these symptoms for the last 10 days assuming they have this virus," said Dr. Matthew Davis, chief medical executive with the state health department.

He cautioned, though, the results are a reason "to be alert in our families and communities to try to prevent the spread of this illness."

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2013, file photo, a sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,in Atlanta.   Citing an anthrax scare and a recurring problem with safety, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, July 11, 2014,  shut down two research labs and stopped shipping highly dangerous germs to other labs. One of the closed facilities was involved an incident last month that could have accidentally exposed workers in three labs to anthrax. A second, previously undisclosed problem earlier this year involved deadly bird flu. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

State officials said additional details about the three cases aren't being made public until patients and their families can be notified. They said they expect more cases because respiratory illnesses are on the rise across the state.

Symptoms of an EV-D68 infection can include wheezing, difficulty breathing, fever and a racing heart. Most people infected with enteroviruses have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, but some infections can be serious and require hospitalization, officials said.

Dr. Rudolph Valentini, chief medical officer for DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan, said he was not surprised by the confirmed cases of EV-D68 in Michigan. Scores of young patients have been brought to the emergency department with symptoms of the disease, which mimics asthma with wheezing, difficulty breathing and fever.

"We have been admitting about 50 patients a day, many of whom have respiratory symptoms like this, and many of whom have been getting admitted to the intensive care unit — in rare cases on a ventilator for support," Valentini said. "Our visitors to our emergency department and our admissions are up about 25 percent from this time last year.

"We first started seeing it in Michigan three to four weeks ago."

The virus can cause mild to severe illness, with the worst cases needing life support for breathing difficulties. Kids with asthma have been especially vulnerable. No deaths have been reported.

The DMC announced Thursday it is restricting visitation at Children's Hospital to only parents and legal guardians in the in-patient areas of the hospital. Nobody younger than 18 will be allowed on the in-patient floors.

Clusters of EV-D68 infections have affected children in 22 states since mid-August. Youngsters with asthma may be at an increased risk and should make sure they consistently take their asthma medications, officials said.

Besides Michigan, the newest states where cases were confirmed are California, Connecticut, Georgia, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington.

Enterovirus affects 10 million to 15 million Americans each year, health experts say. It's transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes.

There's no specific treatment for EV-D68, but supportive care can be provided.

State health officials lack specific figures for how many in Michigan might have had EV-D68 in the past since it's among more than 100 types of enteroviruses and "one of the least common ones," Davis said.

"There really haven't been a lot of cases over time," he said. "Unless there's an outbreak like this, there's not usually cause to use specific testing for one type of enterovirus versus another."

Here are tips to prevent the virus:

¦Wash hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers.

¦Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

¦Avoid kissing, hugging and sharing cups or eating utensils with people who are sick.

¦Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.

(517) 371-3660

Detroit News Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Karen Bouffard and the Associated Press contributed.