10/02/2014 02:45 EDT | Updated 12/02/2014 05:59 EST

Manitoba confirms first cases this year of respiratory illness in children

WINNIPEG - Public health officials say Manitoba has its first confirmed cases of enterovirus D68 this year.

Michael Routledge, the province's chief public health officer, said three children under the age of 10 were hospitalized but have since been released. Two of the children were from Winnipeg and the third was in northern Manitoba.

The virus is being blamed for polio-like paralysis in a handful of other young patients in British Columbia and Alberta. Given there are also confirmed cases in Saskatchewan and Ontario, it's not a surprise to see the virus in Manitoba, Routledge said.

"We don't think that these are the only three cases in Manitoba," he said Thursday. "It's probably the tip of the iceberg. We expect with this virus, as with many circulating viruses, that you're going to see a small percentage of severe cases but — by and large — this is not a significant concern for Manitobans."

Most children are only mildly affected, Routledge said. Children who have asthma or who have weakened immune systems can have more serious symptoms. To reduce the risk, he said, people should wash their hands frequently and sneeze or cough into their elbow.

This isn't the first time the virus has surfaced in Manitoba — the province reported 20 cases in 2009.

"This is a virus we've seen before. We more or less know how it behaves and it's not really out of keeping with how other circulating respiratory viruses behave."