Surely by now, it must be official: for the world of public health, 2014 has been the most exceptional and remarkable year in recent memory, but for all the wrong reasons. As the threat of Ebola shifts to this continent, commanding the attention of most Americans, the curious saga of Enterovirus D68 continues to spread as well, progressing from troubling to potentially tragic.

Enterovirus D68 was first identified in the United States in the 1960s and has appeared in a small number of patients every year since the 1980s, but nothing compared to the amount seen this year, which so far has resulted in over 600 hospitalizations in over 40 states. “We live in a world in which there are lots of viruses and lots of bacteria…So the issue isn’t always, ‘How did that bacteria get to one person,’ but, ‘What were the conditions under which the bacteria overgrew and took over and did (all this) so scathingly quickly?’ “stated Dr. Michael Fine, Rhode Island’s Department of Health director.

These questions articulate the greatest concerns for doctors struggling to understand the spread of the virus and its long-term effects. Typically, according to the CDC, various Enteroviruses (there are about 100) infect up to 10 to 15 million Americans every year. Most carriers exhibit symptoms no worse than the common cold while many others remain unaware that they’ve contracted the virus at all. Enterovirus D68 however begins with cold-like symptoms before settling ‘in the chest, restricting airways and causing wheezing and breathing difficulty’ posing a particularly heightened risk for children with asthma or other respiratory issues.

As the spread of the disease begins to coincide with flu season, medical officials are urging parents to exhibit extra precautions in order to halt the spread of the virus. For every parent, teacher and guardian this mainly includes greater enforcement of basic sanitation practices that help prevent the spread of the average cold or flu, such as regularly washing hands, ensuring children keep hands away from their face, and perhaps most importantly, not sending children to school when they appear sick. Special things to consider in light of the many hospitalizations, especially for parents unacquainted with respiratory issues, is more attentive monitoring of breathing difficulties and wheezing as well as a lack of hesitation in pursuing medical assistance if either of these symptoms appear present. Doctors are optimistic that the deeper we move into fall, the more the spread of Enterovirus D68 will begin to decrease. But like all risks to public health, the “public” aspect cannot be stressed enough, and if yet another outbreak is to be conquered, we must all heed our responsibility towards those around us.

This begins with being informed. For more information about Enterovirus D68, please visit:

Center for Disease Control

or consult your personal doctor or pediatrician. They’ll be happy to help.