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Health officials: New respiratory virus coming to Arizona

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PHOENIX – A respiratory virus that that has left dozens of children hospitalized in 10 states may be making its way into Arizona, according to public health officials.

Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, part of a family of viruses associated with the common cold, can cause severe respiratory illness, particularly among those with asthma and other breathing problems. In most people, the virus causes cold-like symptoms including coughing, congestion, sneezing and fever.

Jessica Rigler, chief for the Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control at the Arizona Department of Heath Services, said that while there are no confirmed cases yet in Arizona there have been rumblings.

“We have heard some anecdotal reports from hospitals around the state saying that they are seeing an increased number of children coming in with upper respiratory illnesses,” she said.

Because hospitals aren’t required to report isolated cases of cold-like viruses, state health officials don’t know for certain whether Arizona has cases yet, Rigler said.

The symptoms of EV-D68 can be deceiving, she said.

“What we are seeing right now with D68 is that it’s really hitting kids hard, especially those children that have asthma,” Rigler said. “In addition to cold symptoms, some children are experiencing difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and wheezing.”

The virus spreads through contaminated surfaces touched by infected people. With no treatment or vaccine for EV-D68, Rigler said prevention is important.

“That means washing your hands frequently, not touching your face with dirty fingers,” she said. “It also means staying home when you’re sick or keeping your kids home when they are sick, and sanitizing any surfaces.”

Rigler said that parents don’t have much more to fear from this virus, as is the case with most any other virus. However, she said that if a child does come home sick parents should keep an eye out for any abnormal symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, that would require medical care.

Jeanine Fowler, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, said in addition to prevention it’s also critical for people to be aware of potential outbreaks.

“This particular virus is adversely affecting children, so it is about educating our providers and parents,” she said.

Marie Peoples, chief health officer for Coconino County Public Health Services, said as long as the education about the virus is reaching parents, teachers and medical professionals they can all work together to aid in prevention.

“We are a mobile society and illnesses transfer,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the closest state to Arizona that’s reported an outbreak is Colorado.

Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa ordinarily posts signs during flu season asking that younger visitors stay away from patient-care areas. That may change this year, according to Kimberly Byrne, Cardon Children’s Pediatric Asthma Program manager.

“We are thinking about putting those signs up earlier than usual with the virus hitting Colorado so hard,” Byrne said.

Dr. Joel Terriquez, an infectious disease specialist at Flagstaff Medical Center, said in an email that his hospital is already is keeping children 13 and under away from patient-care areas.

“Cases have been reported in multiple states, including some close to Arizona, such as Utah and Colorado, Terriquez said. “Northern Arizona is a popular stop for tourists traveling to and from those states, which puts us at higher risk of being exposed to a virus like enterovirus D68.”