A respiratory virus is sweeping through the Midwest and other areas of the United States, sending an unprecedented number of school children to the emergency room.
Enterovirus 68, also known as EV-D68, is a respiratory virus that has afflicted over 475 children in Missouri and more than 1,000 throughout the U.S. Ten states have reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help investigate clusters of the virus, including Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
Virologist for the CDC Mark Pallansch says it could just be the beginning of the epidemic. "This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of severe cases," Pallansch told CNN in an interview. "We're in the middle of looking into this, we don't have all the answers yet."
Enteroviruses exhibit symptoms similar to a severe cold. The common summer cold is a very common form of an enterovirus.
In severe cases, patients reported severe respiratory distress, fever, coughing and rashes. The unusual aspect in these cases are the large number of hospitalizations. The virus' peak season is usually in September. In Kansas City, Miissouri, the virus has sent more than 30 patients a day to the emergency room, and 15 percent of those cases have had patients sent to intensive care, officials said.
Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, division director for infectious diseases at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said she hadn't seen anything like it.
"It's worse in terms of scope of critically ill children who require intensive care. I would call it unprecedented. I've practiced for 30 years in pediatrics, and I've never seen anything quite like this," Jackson explained to CNN.
The Kansas City School District started school on Aug. 17 and hospital officials noticed a spike in the cases, Jackson said. "It could have taken off right after school started. Our peak appears to be between the 21st and the 30th of August. We've seen some leveling of cases at this point."
A CDC study found that at least 30 of the children tested positive for EV-D68 in Missouri. There are no vaccines for the disease and there is no timetable on when they could be developed.
"Many infections will be mild and self-limited, requiring only symptomatic treatment," according to the study. "Some people with several respiratory illness caused by EV-D68 may need to be hospitalized and receive intensive supportive therapy."
It is possible cases of the virus could result in death, but none of the Missouri cases have resulted in death and data is not available for overall morbidity and mortality from the virus in the U.S.