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Enterovirus D-68: are B.C. kids at risk?

09/16/2014 11:54 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:53 EDT
A respiratory virus that has been sweeping across the United States in recent weeks has been confirmed to have made more than a dozen children ill in Alberta, and is suspected in over a dozen children's hospitalizations in Washington State.

Medical health officials say the enterovirus is not uncommon, but the D-68 strain usually is, and it tends to cause more serious symptoms including wheezing, trouble breathing and children not eating.

No children have died during the outbreak of the strain in the U.S. but doctors there say it has caused unusually severe symptoms.

On Monday, CBC's Andrew Chang sat down with Dr. Erik Swartz, head of pediatrics at Vancouver Coastal Health, to find out what the enterovirus D-68 outbreak means for Canadians, and for British Columbians in particular.

Watch the video, and follow along with the transcript below:

CBC News Vancouver at 6 host Andrew Chang: So we're looking at the spread of enterovirus in the United States, possibly into Canada. Has it arrived in B.C.?

Dr.  Erik Swartz: We don't know. Likely, but we certainly haven't confirmed any cases yet. We don't test for it routinely. But if we start seeing a spike in respiratory illness in the hospital, in the intensive care unit, we would definitely start doing that.

AC: Is it likely that this virus will spread as far as Canada? Right now we're seeing it in the U.S. Midwest and southeast corner. Is it likely to spread?

ES: It's inevitable. The viruses don't stop at the border. People travel back and forth all the time. I think it's only a matter of time before it does show up in Canada, if it hasn't already.

AC: Why are we hearing so much about it now, this sudden uptick, or this surge, this outbreak of the virus?

ES: It's a scary thing. Every few years it seems a virus sort of declares itself and makes children a little bit more sick than we would normally find. It becomes an important story and reminds us that children can get sick very quickly.

AC: What are the symptoms people need to look out for? This is more severe than your common cold, right?

ES: It can be. So it presents, or it starts, just like a typical common cold: runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever—and those things are quite manageable and quite normal for somebody who's sick or a child who is sick.

What we worry about is the progression: So, if the children start having problems breathing, if they aren't as alert as they normally are, if they're not having as much urine produced, if they start getting dehydrated, that's when we run into problems and when they should be seeking medical care.

AC: When we do see that situation, if a parent sees that present itself for one of their kids, what should they be doing as far as treatment?

ES: If it's very minor they can stay at home and see that the child stays hydrated, drinks lots. If it progresses, then of course they should seek medical attention and if it's very severe, there's always the emergency room or 911.

AC: And I guess there's always the question of prevention: What should people be thinking about there, in terms of preventing the spread of this virus?

ES: Really, with any virus the best prevention is good hand hygiene. So, washing of the hands with soap and water, cleaning off hard surfaces and toys, disinfecting things, staying away from people who are sick, and covering your mouth when you cough.

AC: One last thing: You know, funny enough, when it comes to prevention, the fact that kids aren't in school right now may actually be helping, I imagine, inhibit the spread of the virus. When kids do ultimately go back to school, do you see this equation changing somewhat?

ES: It very well may. And you're right, it could be a silver lining in the whole labour dispute we're seeing in B.C.

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