On my way home from work last week, I began to hear the early news stories about Enterovirus 68. There have been several Midwest states with outbreaks of this disease. As is to be expected, the next few days of my week have been filled with many reassurances to families worried that their child may be infected. As is true of the vast majority of viral illnesses, there is no easily accessible test. If we need to test, the sample must be sent to Washington, DC to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unlike some of our tests that can be performed in the office with results in minutes, the results for this test would be very delayed. The test for Enterovirus helps us identify outbreaks but does not help us with treating the patient in front of us.
So once again, I am back to helping my concerned patients and families with how to know what to look for in their own child. The answer is fairly straightforward and applies across the board to all children. A common cold, or a virus like Enterovirus, has the potential to sicken anyone severely. So, what does a parent or a caregiver look for specifically? First, you need to pay attention to the child's breathing. Is the child breathing fast, heavy or with difficulty? If the answer is yes then seek medical attention. If the child is not experiencing breathing issues then the second symptom to look at is their color. If the child ever looks blue, then this is an emergency and call 911. If they are pink, then that is normal. Hydration is the third aspect you should monitor. A sick child will often experience a decreased appetite and may not eat and drink as they normally would. While a decreased appetite for food is okay, a sick child still needs to drink. To evaluate hydration, check if the child has continued to urinate and if the mouth looks wet inside. Any concern with hydration should be addressed with your pediatrician.
So the take home message is that whether the virus of the day is Enterovirus, Influenza or the common cold, watch for signs of distress with breathing, color change, hydration or any combination of the three. Always call your physician with questions or concerns