BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Enterovirus-Linked Death First In Canada

10/17/2014 02:21 EDT | Updated 12/17/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - The death of a young man from Metro Vancouver linked to enterovirus D68 has spurred renewed warnings to people with underlying health conditions.

It's believed to be the first death in Canada associated with the virus, said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an infectious diseases specialist at the BC Centre For Disease Control.

The man was in his early twenties and had severe asthma, one of several conditions that makes people especially vulnerable, Skowronski told reporters during a conference call on Friday.

Most of those infected with enterovirus D68 have what appear to be symptoms of a common cold: sneezing, runny nose, a cough, and some have no symptoms at all, she said.

But only the most severe cases are diagnosed because those people are usually in hospital, Skowronski said.

"This most recent and tragic event in this young man with a history of asthma serves as a reminder that people of any age with underlying conditions, especially heart and lung and notably asthma, do sometimes experience more severe complications when infected with respiratory viruses," she said.

Skowronski released few details about the young man.

She said health officials have spoken with his family and they agreed to share some details, such as his severe asthma, in the hope that those with similar conditions get help quickly.

"But either way this is a tragic loss for the family and our heartfelt condolences go out them," she said.

Because enterovirus D68 isn't reportable in Canada and doctors aren't always looking for such infections, Skowronski could only say health officials believe this is the first death associated with EV-D68.

"So it is possible that enterovirus D68 has contributed, or been associated with deaths previously, but those were not recognized," she added.

A small number of patients infected in Canada and U.S. this season have developed polio-like symptoms. This is unusual, Skowronski said.

Children seem especially vulnerable to the virus and many who are very ill are on ventilators to help them breath.

There are an estimated 200 and 300 cases in Canada. Of the 36 diagnosed in B.C., Skowronski said they range in age from less than one year to older than 80.

"A very interesting pattern that has persisted is that two-thirds of the confirmed cases so far are male. So boys and men are disproportionately represented in our confirmed cases."

But Skowronski said the message needs to get out to those of any age and gender that if they have other health vulnerabilities, they need to be cautious.

"In the event that you develop difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, and because we also know that enterovirus D68 may be associated with neurological findings that we're still trying to learn about and investigate, if there is sudden onset of muscle weakness or paralysis as well, these people should not delay getting immediate medical care."

There is no specific vaccine or treatment for the infection, so prevention measures are the standard warnings for preventing any cold of flu, including washing hands thoroughly and sneezing or coughing into your elbow.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control has recorded seven deaths connected to EV-D68 this year.

By Friday, the U.S. centre had confirmed 825 people in 46 states had the illness.