San Francisco health officials are continuing to test for potential cases of enterovirus D68 this week and say it is possible more people will be diagnosed with the viral infection.
“We may end up with a few additional cases,” said Dr. Cora Hoover, director of communicable disease control and prevention for the Department of Public Health.
The latest outbreak is the largest ever reported of the virus in the U.S.
Enterovirus D68 usually causes mild symptoms similar to a cold or flu, though it can occasionally cause severe respiratory symptoms, especially in children with a history of asthma, according to health officials.
The first confirmed case of enterovirus D68 in a San Francisco resident was announced Friday. The patient, whom health officials only identified as a child under 18, was in “good condition” after being admitted to a hospital outside The City for two days in mid-September, Hoover said.
There is no specific treatment or vaccine for enterovirus D68, but doctors say there are effective treatments available for breathing problems that can result from the disease. It is spread through close contact with someone who is infected.
Enterovirus D68 is one of about 100 enterovirus types. It was first discovered in the U.S. in California in the 1960s. As of Tuesday, health officials had confirmed 628 people in 44 states and the District of Columbia with a respiratory illness caused by the virus since mid-August.
Health officials are unsure why this year's outbreak is so widespread.
On Friday, the same day that the health department announced the first enterovirus D68 case in a city resident, the San Francisco Unified School District distributed letters with information in English, Spanish and Chinese about the illness as well as safety precautions to schools and parents.
Per SFUSD protocol, if a student has a fever, their parent is alerted and the child is sent home. Those having difficulty breathing are also told to see a doctor, said Linda Boyer-Chu, a nurse at Washington High School who has worked in public health for nearly three decades.
“It's basically not any more serious than any other flu virus, except for a few rare cases,” Boyer-Chu said of enterovirus D68. “What I worry about is people who are not aware just letting their symptoms continue without treatment.”
A 4-year-old boy in New Jersey was the first confirmed death due to enterovirus D68 this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also found the virus in four other people who died this year.
Preventing spread of enterovirus D68
– 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
– If you are sick, stay home from work or school
– Cover your coughs and sneezes
– Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
Source: Department of Public Health