09/23/2014 09:00 EDT | Updated 11/23/2014 05:59 EST

Enterovirus D68: 7 confirmed cases in B.C.

The virus causing respiratory illnesses that has sickened hundreds of children across Canada and the U.S.​ has now been detected in seven patients in B.C.

Enterovirus D68 comes on like a cold, but tends to affect younger children strongly and can cause more serious symptoms including wheezing, trouble breathing, dehydration and loss of appetite.

Officials with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control say the cases so far have been sporadic, with five of them in the Lower Mainland, one in the province's north, and another in the Interior.

Dr. DanutaSkowronski, a specialist in emerging respiratory pathogens, says the centre will be watching closely for more cases now that children and teenagers are back in school. 

"It's certainly a possibility that with kids congregating more in classrooms with their kind of rich social network there may be greater spread of the virus," she said.

But the late start to the school year this fall because of the teachers' strike may slow the spread of the virus.

"These viruses, they like the early fall and it's likely, just through natural seasonality, [cases of infection will] start to diminish over the coming months."

Doctors say the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to practise good hand hygiene, which includes diligent hand washing, and disinfecting shared surfaces.

Parents with children who are having difficulty breathing should seek immediate medical care.