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CDC Develops New Enterovirus 68 Test To Diagnose Patients Earlier, Hoping To Prevent Deaths Of Children

asthma
Children with asthma are especially vulnerable to the severe effects of EV-D68, a respiratory virus currently circulating through the states. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Tuesday it had created a more effective testing system for enterovirus 68, which will be able to diagnose patients within days, not weeks.

“CDC has received substantially more specimens for enterovirus lab testing than usual this year, due to the large outbreak of EV-D68 and related hospitalizations,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. “When rare or uncommon viruses suddenly begin causing severe illness, CDC works quickly to develop diagnostic tests to enhance our response and investigations. This new lab test will reduce what would normally take several weeks to get results to a few days.”

The enterovirus 68 (EV-D68) has already killed two young children and caused 700 kids to fall ill across 46 states since August. Similar enterovirus and rhinovirus outbreaks occur every year, causing millions of respiratory illnesses in children, according to the CDC’s press release. Enteroviruses are a type of single-stranded RNA viruses that cause several human and mammalian diseases. The virus causing polio — poliovirus — is considered an enterovirus, but EV-D68 is among several that are non-polio enteroviruses.

“This year, EV-D68 has been the most common type of enterovirus identified, leading to increases in illnesses among children and affecting those with asthma most severely,” the CDC press release states.

The CDC’s new test is not meant to determine treatment for specific patients; rather it’s to “collect surveillance data to help public health officials target our responses to the outbreak,” the CDC states. The test identifies all the various strains of EV-D68 that have appeared this summer and fall. It’s newly improved from the old test, which had been used for about nine years; this previous test required several labor-intensive steps.

Enterovirus 68 was identified in 1962, and causes relatively mild symptoms in children — such as fever, respiratory issues, and a runny nose. But it’s especially lethal for kids who suffer from asthma; it can cause serious complications and hospitalization. Perhaps most concerning is that the virus has been linked to a few paralysis cases: such as that of Kinley Galbreath, a 5-year-old who is currently paralyzed after her asthma led to a tough case of the virus.

Currently, the only treatment for the virus is supportive therapy — like providing the patient with oxygen to help them breathe. The CDC expects, however, that enterovirus cases will begin to decline by the late fall and winter. On its website, CDC states that it will continue to collect information from the states to better understand the outbreak, assist states in dealing with the outbreak, and using this new, fast lab test.

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