Virus resembling polio is on the rise

Doctors and pathologists are scratching their heads over outbreaks of a new virus. The virus is called enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, and in some cases, it appears to exhibit polio-like symptoms.

Enteroviruses are often intestinal and transmitted via the anal-oral route but EV-D68 is different. In most cases, it appears to be mainly a respiratory illness transmitted instead though coughs and sneezes. EV-D68 is often seen to be biologically similar to Rhinoviruses, the type of viruses associated with the common cold.

A study published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, in November 2015 claims that in 2014, EV-D68 caused, “widespread severe respiratory illness across the USA, disproportionately affecting those with asthma. This unexpected event underscores the need for robust surveillance of enterovirus types, enabling improved understanding of virus circulation and disease burden.” The 2014 outbreak was localized mostly in Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago, Illinois and Aurora, Colorado.

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The outbreak in Illinois saw a doubling of reported cases of respiratory illnesses in 2014, and the study found that about 46 percent of tested cases were confirmed as EV-D68-positive. Other enteroviruses and rhinoviruses were identified at a rate no higher than 4 percent. Eighty-three percent of the reported cases were children younger than 12, over half of those cases occurred in patients with a history of asthma or other airway diseases.

The disease, if it is contained to the respiratory track, is not often fatal. However, there have been a few cases of EV-D68 coinciding with a rare paralyzing disease called acute flaccid myelitis. According to a study from the American Thoracic Society Journal, 12 children infected with EV-D68 died during the 2014 outbreak.

This is, in part, why the disease has been called “polio-like,” and why it has attracted national media attention. In the November 2015 study, the authors were careful to note that “the contribution of EV-D68 to this neurological illness is not clear and the cause of AFM is still being elucidated.”

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Another study published in The Lancet in January 2015 suggests that, “the possibility of an association between enterovirus D68 and neurological disease in children.” The jury is still out on the epidemiology of EV-D68.

According to an NBC news report, it is becoming increasingly likely that EV-D68 is the culprit. It is possible that the virus has changed to affect symptoms of paralysis more often, according to the NBC report. Although the epidemiology of EV-D68 is tricky for scientists to pin down, there is no doubting that since 2014, it has been on the rise.