The U.S. outbreak of Enterovirus D68 has claimed its first confirmed victim, a 4-year-old boy in New Jersey.
According to CBS News, preschooler Eli Waller, of Hamilton Township, N.J., stayed home from school with pinkeye, went to sleep that night and never woke up. His death occurred on the 25th of September but the cause of death was only released on Friday.
According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 43 states and the District of Columbia now have a total of 538 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68, the severe respiratory illness that has been infecting children since the summer. The strain can cause paralysis and, in rare cases, death.
Waller's death is the first such case confirmed to be caused by the virus, CBS News said.
Four others infected have died
Four people infected with the virus have died in recent weeks, but it's not clear what role - if any - the virus played in those deaths, officials have said.
In Dallas, 11-year-old Bryan Sotelo is also fighting for his life after becoming ill with Enterovirus D68, ABC News reported on Friday. He is currently undergoing physical therapy at Children's Medical Centre of Dallas, but remains too weak to lift his arms, the report said.
Health officials are also trying to determine if the virus is associated with cases of muscle weakness and even paralysis that have struck 10 children in the Denver area. Other cases of muscle weakness or paralysis have been reported in Massachusetts, Michigan and Missouri, according to The New York Times.
Doctors don't know if the limb weakness or paralysis is temporary or will be long-lasting - or whether it has anything to do with Enterovirus D68.
Read: Enterovirus linked to paralysis of 9 U.S kids
Outbreak began in early August
The virus is behind a spike in harsh respiratory illnesses in children that started in early August.
According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the 43 states with confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68 are: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
So far, almost all of the cases have involved children, the CDC said.
Enterovirus D68 is part of the family of viruses that includes the common cold. It can sometimes require hospitalisation, especially for children with asthma.
The CDC said it expects more cases to be confirmed in the coming weeks because the testing for Enterovirus D68 is complex and can only be done by the CDC and a small number of state-run laboratories.
The first cases of Enterovirus D68 were diagnosed in August in Midwestern and Western states.
Enteroviruses are common in September as kids head back to school, with an estimated 10 million to 15 million people infected each year. But doctors believe this particular type of enterovirus is causing more severe cases than in the past.
Read: Enterovirus sickens hundreds of kids in the U.S
Symptoms similar to many other illnesses
The virus is also hard to track because it causes symptoms similar to many other infections, including the common cold, according to health experts.
Illness associated with the Enterovirus D68 infection typically lasts about a week. Children will appear to have a severe cold, with runny nose, sneezing and cough. But the illness can escalate quickly in some cases, and the child may start to have trouble breathing. It's typically transmitted through close contact with an infected person, or by touching objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes, according to health officials.
Antibiotics won't work against a virus, and there is no antiviral treatment available for Enterovirus D68, health officials said.
The CDC is asking doctors and public health officials to consider Enterovirus D68 as a potential suspect if widespread respiratory illnesses start occurring in their communities.
Health experts say good hygiene is the best defence against the virus.
Children and adults should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds on a regular basis. They also should avoid contact with people who are sick, and stay home if they themselves fall ill. Kids with asthma need to stay on top of their symptoms and take their medication, health officials said.
Enteroviruses are very common, according to the CDC. There are more than 100 types of enteroviruses. People who come down with a bad summer cold often have been laid low by an enterovirus, the agency said.
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