KC kids may help in finding treatment for enterovirus that struck hundreds last year

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A virus that hospitalized hundreds of area kids last summer and fall could return again this year or in years to come. Kansas City kids who've had enterovirus 68 may help in finding a way to prevent or treat the illness.

More than 500 kids were hospitalized at Children's Mercy Hospital last year with the virus. Dozens were in intensive care with severe breathing trouble. The virus was also linked to paralysis in a small number of kids.

The outbreak in Kansas City was one of the first and worst in the nation. Kids received supportive care, but there is no drug to directly fight it.

Dr. James Crowe wants to change that. He knows enterovirus 68 can strike again. Dr. Crowe is a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He says kids who had the virus last year hold the key to prevention and treatment. Their blood cells now have antibodies to the virus. Dr. Crowe wants to isolate the antibodies in his lab.

"We're trying to pluck out that needle in a haystack from blood samples to find the very ones that kill enterovirus and use those as the factories to make these new biological drugs," he said.

Dr. Crowe says they would be natural drugs to prevent or treat the virus.

"This would be like immune globulin that's used for travelers. Instead of being a general immune globulin, it would be specific for enterovirus D68," the researcher said.

He says it would be particularly beneficial for kids with severe asthma or other chronic lung diseases.

"That would be very exciting that we could prevent or treat the infection in high-risk patients," said Dr. Crowe.

Parents of children who had the virus last year may contact Dr. Crowe to learn more about the research. Call 615-343-8064 or e-mail james.crowe@vanderbilt.edu