The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has confirmed that a man in his 20s with a history of severe asthma has died after contracting Enterovirus D68.

The death was confirmed in a conference call on Friday morning.

It is the first death in Canada linked to the disease.

"It's not known to what extent D68 may have caused or contributed to this death," said Dr. Danuta Skowronksi with the BCCDC.

"But either way, this is a tragic loss for the family, and our heartfelt condolences go out to them," she said.

Skowronksi said the victim, who was from the Lower Mainland, was in hospital earlier this week, and his health declined rapidly before he passed away.

She noted the victim did not have paralysis or neurological symptoms, which can occur in some cases.

Number of cases doubles in B.C.

The BCCDC said 36 cases of Enterovirus D68 have been confirmed in the province, double the number from last week.

Skowronski said the confirmed cases have been found in every health authority in the province, and the patients age in range from less than one year old to more than 80.

"However, consistent with elsewhere, 65 per cent of the cases are children under 10 years of age, and only about 15 to 20 per cent are adults 20 or more years of age," she said.

Skowronski added that two-thirds of the confirmed cases are male.

7 deaths associated with D68 in U.S.

Skowronski says the U.S. Centres for Disease Control is aware of seven deaths associated with D68 infections.

Before the 2014 outbreak in North America, Skowronski says three deaths had been associated with the virus — two in the Philippines in 2008 and one in Japan in 2010.

She adds the death in B.C. is the first health officials know of in Canada, as Enterovirus infections are not reportable in Canada or the U.S.

"So it is possible that Enterovirus D68 has contributed, or associated with deaths previously, but those were not recognized," says Skowronski.

Vast majority of infections will be mild: BCCDC

The BCCDC stresses most people who are infected with enteroviruses will have mild symptoms.

"Like runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, some cough," says Skowronski.

"And it really is just a small proportion of people who run into more difficulty with this virus."

Enterovirus D-68 confirmed in Canada

Health officials say people with heart and lung conditions and asthma should seek medical help if they show symptoms of enterovirus infection. (CBC)

Still, Skowronski says people with heart and lung conditions and asthma should seek medical help if they show symptoms, and adults should also be cautious, despite most cases in B.C. affecting children.

Skowronski says people ought to wash their hands frequently and cough into the crook of their elbow to help stop the spread of infection.

Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, notes there is no vaccine or specific treatment for Enterovirus D68, but also stressed most people who are infected will have mild symptoms.

"As well, our surveillance shows that the [number of cases] are actually going down," said Taylor.  

"So I think Canadians need to be reassured."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a B.C. man had been killed by Enterovirus D68. In fact, officials say it is not known to what extent D68 may have caused or contributed to his death.
    Oct 17, 2014 12:03 PM PT