Unusual respiratory virus strikes hundreds of metro kids

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An unusual respiratory virus is striking children in the metro in big numbers. Children’s Mercy Hospital is hospitalizing 20 to 30 kids a day with the virus. The hospital is as full now as it is at the height of flu season.

This is not the same virus we told you about several weeks ago that can cause meningitis. This one can cause severe breathing trouble. Children’s Mercy has seen more than 300 cases in recent days in kids of all ages.

Preston Sheldon’s mom says he seemed fine when she took him to pre-school Tuesday. But minutes later, the Grain Valley mom got the call. Her three-year-old son was having trouble breathing.

“You could see his ribs, and his stomach was pushing out really hard… I thought it was an asthma attack,” said Pam Sheldon.

But it was a virus that is inundating Children’s Mercy with patients.

“To be at winter census is quite unusual in August obviously. To see a virus we’ve not seen before is unusual, too,” said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, an infectious disease specialist.

It is enterovirus 68. The doctor says it’s well-known around the world, but cases have not been seen in Kansas City before.

“We have about 10 to 15 percent who have severe illness from this virus which actually acts like asthma exacerbations,” said Dr. Jackson.

She says about two-thirds of the hospitalized cases are in children like Preston who have a history of asthma or wheezing. But others are having trouble breathing, too. She says the virus will produce an ordinary cold in many kids. What should parents watch for?

“The difficulty breathing is a very obvious tip-off sign they need to come into the hospital,” said Dr. Jackson.

To try to stop the spread, Children’s Mercy has posted signs at security entrances saying children 12 or younger should not visit in-patients. Nor should those with symptoms visit.

Dr. Jackson says good hand washing, covering your cough and not sending your child to school if he or she appears sick can help control the spread.

There’s no anti-viral medicine for enterovirus 68 and no vaccine. Supportive care, including oxygen, has helped Preston. His mom is glad they didn’t wait to go to the emergency room.

“Cause it can hit really fast. And without medical treatment, it could get really bad,” she said.